David Henderson reports on new research which reveals unequal opportunities on the playing fields of Scotland
SOCIAL class may be as accurate a guide to top-level sporting performance as it is to academic attainment, a major study of school sport in Scotland is likely to confirm.
Young people from affluent backgrounds stand a far greater chance of representing their country than those in disadvantaged areas. The theme of social exclusion in sport is almost certain to be a key finding in a forthcoming report compiled by Moray House Institute researchers for the Scottish Sports Council.
Mary Allison, a senior research fellow, told last week's Scottish School Sports conference in Livingston that athletes at national and international level were far more likely to come from the upper social classes.
Virtually all sports, with some key exceptions, follow this pattern. At United Kingdom level, the 17 per cent of the population in the top social classes contributed 50 per cent of all elite athletes, Ms Allison said. In Scotland, rugby is dominated by the independent sector.
All primaries and secondaries were invited to submit information about sport for the first authoritative study of activity levels for 10 years.
Scottish teachers believed that sport was better supported in schools serving more affluent areas, Ms Allison said.
"Teachers' perception is that it does have an influence. It's not about lack of opportunities but lack of expectation," she stated.
Evidence over the past 10 years indicates that young people still take part in sport but not with the same regularity or intensity.
Other studies carried out in recent years have highlighted lifestyle changes. Young people walk less, run less and cycle less. "But they do not do less sport," Ms Allison said.
* Co-ordinators are making a difference to extracurricular sporting levels, the conference at St Margaret's Academy heard. All Scottish secondaries are being invited to submit plans to deploy co-ordinators, jointly funded by the Government and councils. Some 55 schools are already involved.
Evelyn Roach, a physical education teacher at Broxburn Academy, West Lothian, has helped quadruple numbers taking part in the first year of her appointment as a co-ordinator. Last session only 68 pupils, or 8.5 per cent of the roll, took part. But this year numbers have risen to 274, or 34.25 per cent of the roll. Four activities were offered last year, against 11 this year.
At James Young High, Livingston, Geraldine Connor has increased numbers by more than half, from 17 per cent to 27 per cent, and 206 pupils are involved.
Ms Connor says that sport faces competition from chess, science and homework clubs - and the rise in the number of students with part-time jobs.
Payment for staff who take on after-school work is an issue in West Lothian, both teachers admit. Those involved in supported study are paid, others are not. But Ms Roach said: "People do not do extracurricular sport for the money."
She believes a full-time sports development officer in each school could boost numbers further and establish links with primaries and sports clubs.