Goals in sight
A whole new ball game for school sport? Maybe. The signs from the first 18 months of the sports co-ordinators' programme are positive, but don't stake all on it just yet.
Just as Tiger Woods uses more than one club to negotiate his way around a golf course (well, two - a driver and putter), so there is more to a healthy national picture of school sport than the emergence of one-day-a-week co-ordinators in 278 secondaries.
Nevertheless, the clawback from an exceptionally low base has begun. Two studies by Sportscotland, co-funders along with local authorities, reveal sterling efforts across the country to raise activity levels and secure a more balanced physical development programme for young people.
The essence of it all remains the ability of co-ordinators to inspire, cajole and nudge colleagues into taking groups of children at lunchtime and after school. Make it as easy as possible to turn up and help out, and many will do.
There are many notable successes. In the co-ordinators' first full year, the number of teachers prepared to give their time jumped by 43 per cent, according to findings from a detailed study in 10 local authorities.
In Angus, the number of teachers involved leapt from 168 to 284, while Fife secondaries doubled their number, up from 307 to 614. Fairly reliable returns from schools in the 10 authorities suggest 4,293 teachers were involved.
Others joined in too. In Angus, the number of parents volunteering rose from six to 53, while three community coaches were involved at the start but 43 by the end of year one. In Fife, 15 parents became involved - two more than at the start - and 38 community coaches, after 14 at the beginning.
The numbers of pupils taking part in activities has increased substantially, although double-counts tend to skew the figures. Back to Angus. Before the scheme began, 3,500 were involved. After one year, the figure rose to 5,670 - a 62 per cent increase. Similarly, in Fife, 5,923 were involved at the start and 11,336 after 12 months - a 91 per cent increase.
What the survey reveals is the programme's potential to lift the low base of activity rapidly with an initial burst of enthusiasm. Across the country, the number of activities has increased by almost a third, with new ones such as erobics, dance and golf being introduced. The number of sessions rose by 50 per cent.
Stewart Harris, Sportscotland's head of youth sport, is heartened by the early evidence, but believes there is still "some resistance" to the programme, now running in 22 authorities. The aim is a co-ordinator in every secondary, but some cash-strapped councils are reluctant to cough up their share of around pound;3,000 per school. A number of secondaries have been prepared to find the money from their own budgets, such is their belief in the scheme.
Mr Harris insists there is a big picture of physical development into which the co-ordinators fit. "This is about all young people in Scotland. It's about the frequency, quality and range of experiences, regardless of where young people stay. We need quality physical education in primary and secondaries, a co-ordinator in every secondary, an active primary school co-ordinator in every primary and we need to get the club structures right," he explains.
The achievements of co-ordinators are greatly improved where there are local authority managers to bring people together and provide support. He is not sure ministerial pledges of expanding the co-ordinators' time to two days a week will work. Quite simply, there are not enough PE supply teachers to cover.
Other issues include second-rate facilities, a point highlighted by the Rob Littlefield study of physical education and sport in secondaries (TES Scotland Plus, February 16). Some schools are already at their maximum and cannot offer more young people opportunities. But the key issue remains the staff and expertise available.
A second in-depth study by consultants this time last year emphasises that co-ordinators are not the sole drivers of school sport. "School sport programmes are complex and are a result of tradition, opportunity, facilities, individual interests, catchment, location and a range of other local factors," they say.
The study in 11 secondaries shows progress, although "it is very limited in a number of areas". The range of activities increased, along with participation, particularly among girls, but there were questions about long-term viability. Teacher involvement was "very low" in a third of the schools, and some co-ordinators wondered whether their efforts were worth it.
But Tiger Woods did not get where he is without sticking at it. Is there another ball game in town?