Core skills go 'fitba' crazy

7th August 1998 at 01:00
Around 40 teenagers this week went back to school early for one reason. Philip Garden and Allan Humphries, both going into third year at Trinity Academy in Edinburgh, put it succinctly: "Fitba."

The lure of a free week concentrating on "fitba" and three other sports proved irresistible at the city's first sports enterprise summer school at Leith Academy. The other bits about taking part in enterprise activities, albeit related to "fitba", were quietly overlooked amid the enthusiasm.

South of the border, David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, has been persuading Premier League football clubs to run after-school projects, combining homework with sport. Mr Blunkett believes it is one sure means of pulling in pupils who struggle academically.

So far, Scotland has spurned the Blunkett strategy because of the rapidly spreading supported study initiatives in secondaries. But the Edinburgh pilot, which placed the People's Game at the heart of the marketing strategy, could yet set a pattern.

With substantial sums for after-school schemes waiting to be released through the lottery's New Opportunities Fund, the city was keen to test interest in the sports-academic combination among 13 and 14-year-olds.

Guidance and learning support staff at five secondaries on the east side of the capital nominated pupils for the five-day scheme, run during normal school hours. It was split between the pool, playing-field and games hall and informal classroom work. The recent World Cup in France provided a backdrop to the team-building, enterprise activities - anything from designing logos on computer screens to learning basic French. Sports stars need to hold interviews for television.

John Sowerby, an adviser, said: "It's about core or transferable skills. Most of the kids here need support with language and number and there is also a complete mix of sporting ability. Sport is being used as a context for learning. We are only scratching the surface of skill development but we are here to change attitudes. We want to build their self-esteem and mixing with pupils from five different secondaries is a start."

Supported study was not hidebound by the traditional school curriculum, conventional teaching methods or time allocations, Mr Sowerby said. "Schools recognise that summer schools are an opportunity, a fresh start."

Claire Wilkie, a business studies teacher at Leith Academy, said: "We are trying to do things we would not normally do in class. Schools do information technology but we have a CD-Rom they can tap into as well as the Internet, and they are having to do a fanzine as a team."

Eight teachers and eight students staffed the scheme, funded by a one-off payment through the Government's New Deal cash bonanza for councils. Edinburgh has allocated Pounds 30,000 for innovative supported study schemes and the sports scheme was one of four different ventures this summer.

Ms Wilkie does not begrudge giving up a week of her time. "We get long enough holidays and the money is always useful," she said.

Zoe Meiklem, a physical education teacher at Lochgelly High, Fife, supervised the sports - football, swimming, basketball and touch rugby. "We are looking at how they compete, how they co-operate in a group and management of different resources. We are trying to develop a team element," she said.

Even in the swimming pool, pupils were given team activities to work on, as well as improving strokes. For some, gaining confidence in the water was a priority.

The scheme is being monitored and could be replicated by individual schools in their own supported study schemes. Ms Meiklem said: "Sport could be a catch for a lot of people." Mr Sowerby says schools could offer a 90-minute mix of academic work and sport, perhaps one night a week.

"Fitba" is, after all, still the number one interest. The names of two teams in the business enterprise session proved the point: the Famous Five (a reference to the great Hibernian forward line of the 1950s) and Brave Hearts.

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