Enthusiasm is the key to getting more youngsters involved in sport, and the national TOP programme is providing the kick start, says Raymond Ross
With concerns about the health and fitness of young Scots, getting children involved in sports and physical activities as early as possible is becoming imperative.
The Youth Sport Trust's TOP programme, which is run here is a joint venture with SportScotland, is designed to help primary schools (and community organisations) increase children's involvement in sport.
TOP Play for four to nine-year-olds and TOP Sport for seven to 11-year-olds use resource cards and sports equipment suitable for youngsters and are supported by a training package for teachers.
"The main thing about the training package is that for the non-specialist primary teacher it is entirely accessible, non-threatening and great fun," says Ricky Skelding, headteacher of Donibristle Primary in Fife, a school celebrated for its inclusive sports policy and high competitive achievements.
"Our visiting physical education specialist did a whole day's in-service training with us when the TOP programme was introduced in Fife in January last year. I'd recommend all schools do that and I think we'll ask for a refresher day next January.
"The programme is not designed to replace PE in the 5-14 curriculum; it's designed to enhance and complement it. So it's not about any kind of retraining for teachers; it's about learning how to get the best out of an excellent resource," he says.
Fife is well into the game and hopes to have all its primaries on board within the next two years. The equipment and the cards are shared and circulated among primary school clusters, so that by the time pupils enter secondary school they should all have the same experience and knowledge.
"All teachers are role models," says Donibristle Primary's depute headteacher, Graeme Logan, "but the role model wanted here is not a lycra-clad gym rat who is incredibly sporty. That can put children off, especially if they're not sporty themselves and these are the very ones we're trying to encourage to get exercise.
"It's all about attitude rather than aptitude,The training is about getting you enthusiastic so that you'll communicate that enthusiasm to the pupils."
Class teacher Jacqueline Breingan says: "The in-service training day was hands-on good fun. We were the pupils and Kay Haggarty, the PE specialist, was the teacher. But the lesson devolves. She has the cards to begin with - let's say on kicking skills - and then we take over.
"We take the cards and present to each other in groups. And that's how the pupils do it. The cards are the same for teacher and pupils, and it gives them ownership and helps them take control of their own learning. The cards are structured for working in groups, pairs and individuals and relate explicitly to 5-14 targets.
"The programme gives the children ownership because the pupils, certainly in the upper primary, can become group leaders themselves," she adds. "And if the pupils can do it, it shouldn't pose any problem to a teacher."
Mrs Haggarty says: "I've never had any problems with teachers learning to use the cards. There is no right or wrong way of doing things. They are designed to make things easier or harder, depending on what level the pupils are at, and they also cater for children with additional needs."
The individual and team skills taught can transfer across the curriculum as well as into specific sports which the programme's pathways lead to. TOP Sport bags include equipment for basketball, netball, tennis, table tennis, hockey, shinty, rugby, cricket, squash and swimming.
"The programme encourages self-development in teaching and learning, in practice and reflection, because the pupils can set their own targets and assess their improvement," says Mrs Breingan. "It's about developing your own teaching skills all the time that you're having fun with it."
"Taking part is the great thing," says Mr Logan. "That's what the kids love. If you can't kick the ball through the ring, the kids laugh and they love it. So, if you're not at all sporty, this is the package for you."