Game plan that boosts options

8th October 2004 at 01:00
Teaming up with the local sports centre has helped one secondary school to overcome the problems of limited space for sport, writes Roddy Mackenzie

Constructing a school takes a couple of years; building a dream can take a while longer. Yet Dunbar Grammar, in the final weeks of its rebuilding project, has clear evidence that its innovative approach to sport is producing results.

The East Lothian school has had no games hall for the best part of 18 months and, with just one rugby and one hockey pitch in the grounds, it has not been an easy time for the physical education department. It appears, however, to have found a model solution that is sure to be copied.

Through the initiative of headteacher Don Ledingham, a former PE teacher, Dunbar Grammar has struck a deal with Hallhill Healthy Living Centre, a privately owned sports and leisure centre run by the Dunbar Community Development Group. The school has used the money allocated to it for a school sports co-ordinator to take on one of the Hallhill coaches, Paul Huish, for three days a week at the school and two days at the centre, working closely with Simon May, the school's principal teacher of PE.

The pound;8.6 million centre (which is the base for most of the local sports clubs, including Dunbar Rugby Club and the town's two football teams, Dunbar Juniors and Dunbar Amateurs) has an indoor sports hall, squash courts, three football pitches, two rugby pitches and an all-weather training pitch. So the school can now offer a wide range of sport, both within the curriculum and extra-curricular.

"Our stated aim is to provide extra-curricular opportunities on a par with the independent schools, which we know is a tall order," says Mr Ledingham.

"The three aims we have for the school are inspiring learning, promoting success and creating opportunity. This very much falls into the category of creating opportunity.

"I feel I have to be held accountable for extra-curricular sport within the school and I need to have control. There's no shortage of voluntary effort in the school in terms of taking teams, but we need more than an ad hoc voluntary situation. We want to use a combination of professional coaches and teachers. It's not about replacing teachers."

In addition to Mr Huish, a dance teacher has been appointed to work for a day and a half a week, starting this month.

Mr May is eager for the school's new games hall to be completed. It will have four badminton courts and space for basketball, volleyball and possibly handball.

"If there is a good feeling about PE in general - whether it is extra-curricular or just core PE - then you are going to get more pupils wanting to take certificate PE," he says.

"The first year we ran a Standard grade course was in 2000 - this school resisted it for a while - and there was just one class. Now we have two classes in S3 and two in S4, and we can only see that increasing significantly.

"At the moment, we have a quarter of the year group taking certificate PE, but I expect it to be up to over a half. It is our intention to offer as wide a range of activities as possible."

The school has extra-curricular clubs in rugby, football, hockey, volleyball, basketball, athletics and golf, and it is not only the PE department involved, but English, geography and maths teachers too. There is even talk of starting extra-curricular sports classes before the school day begins, as pupils are dropped off early by parents.

Having the Hallhill centre within walking distance of the school has been invaluable during the rebuilding programme and strong links have been forged with the local rugby club, which will be further strengthened by Mr Huish's appointment.

"We have five teams now - a team for every age-group - which is good for a school of our size (650 pupils), and the school teams play at Hallhill," explains Mr May.

"Once we get to senior level we link into the club and there are a lot of enthusiasts willing to take them on. This year, six sixth-year pupils have joined the club, whereas a couple of years ago none joined, and three of those six have made the step up to the first XV."

Mr Huish, a health and sports development officer at the Hallhill centre, was working mainly with local clubs and primary schools before the approach from Dunbar Grammar, but he sees the benefit of the new arrangement.

"The important thing for me is the links that have been created," he explains. "I am involved with children through pre-school, primary school, secondary school and then beyond that.

"The Hallhill project has been on the go for eight years but it took five years to get it built and developed. Once it was built, there was no funding left apart from a small grant of pound;18,000 for the groundsman and maintenance of the grounds, but the centre is self-financing and relies on the local clubs to socialise there. These clubs used to be scattered around, but now we have athletics, rugby, football, squash, volleyball and cricket all going on there and table tennis and cycling to come soon."

Mr Huish says the Dunbar Grammar link is still evolving but has created a lot of interest from further afield. "We've had interest from Stirling Council and I know they've looked at starting similar set-ups in North Berwick, Prestonpans and Tranent.

"We're at the point where demand is so great that we're looking to expand the facilities."

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