Heads urge after-hours school opening

4th September 2009 at 01:00
Extracurricular sport and recreation proved to get children and communities in shape

Original paper headline: Heads urge after-hours school opening in fight against obesity

Heads who have opened up their school grounds for sport and recreation are encouraging others to follow suit in a bid to get youngsters fit and active.

Schools with longer opening hours are convinced that all pupils can benefit as long as programmes are not simply a repeat of PE lessons.

The Sports Council for Wales this week applauded schools that provide a wide range of activities, including archery, climbing and quad biking, for pupils and the general public.

Schools are being encouraged to become more "community focused" as part of the Assembly government's promise that every child would have access to a full range of out-of-hours options by 2010.

Steve Bowden, head of Porth County Community School in Rhondda Cynon Taf, said he started planning eight years ago with the vision of becoming a true community school by next year.

The school now offers 52 free activities every week including aqua aerobics and quad biking, as well as arts, music, dance and circus skills.

"Nearly 60 per cent of our students do at least one activity," said Mr Bowden. "Beforehand, a few children were doing many activities. Now we have given more students the chance to try a sport that they would never have dreamed of."

Based on Porth County's success, Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council is now rolling out the programme to other educational institutions in the area.

Professor Richard Bailey, an education and sport consultant, said that schools had to ensure out-of-hours sporting activities were much more than a PE lesson re-run.

"It can't just be more of the same," he said. "There's evidence that girls, minority ethnic groups and poorer children can get left out of these sports so schools have to ask pupils and the community what they want."

Mr Bailey said that transport also had to be taken into consideration, particularly for rural schools. And Mr Bowden admitted the high costs of transport and entry fees, as well as security issues, were barriers.

"Our site is not ideal by any means, but the children are always with responsible adults," he said.

"With the school being open for a longer period of time, it's more of a deterrent for people coming on to the premises and causing a problem."

Mr Bowden said he would "categorically" recommend opening school grounds to other heads.

"Porth is in no man's land in terms of access to leisure services so it makes sense that we establish ourselves as the heartbeat of the community," he said.

Heledd James, acting national development manager for ContinYou Cymru, a charity that champions community-focused schools, said institutions with well-developed extracurricular activities benefited enormously.

Keith Towler, children's commissioner for Wales, also welcomed the increase in community schools, saying young people often complain that they have nowhere to go.

"Local facilities such as schools could prove to be part of the solution," he said. "They can also play an integral part in creating inclusive communities and encouraging intergenerational work."

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