PLAYING BALL or bassoon after school has been given top billing by the "aiming higher" council in a three-year, pound;1.4 million lottery project.
North Lanarkshire this week raised the ante on raising overall attainment by launching a co-ordinated, authority-wide out of hours music, arts and sports programme to bring fresh opportunities to several thousand upper primary and secondary pupils.
The New Opportunities Fund out of school hours learning scheme is due to begin in April and is set to expand existing programmes in disadvantaged areas.
Neighbouring Glasgow has already picked up pound;3m from the fund and Edinburgh pound;1.8m, but North Lanarkshire claims its approach will bring a new perspective to after-school activities, viewed as an increasingly important tool in lifting achievement.
Allan Wilson, deputy Sport and Culture Minister, described the project as "hugely exciting" in seeking to break the links between disadvantage and underachievement and increasing self-worth. "Whether it's performing on a pitch, playing in a band or painting a picture, our young people can become enthused by life rather than becoming disillusioned by it. They also learn important skills," he said.
The scheme built on the authority's study support schemes, summer schools and outdoor education programmes.
Michael O'Neill, director of education, said all schools had been consulted on plans to create sports, music and arts "colleges", organised on an area basis and beginning with a P6 to S2 focus. "This does not stop you being part of your own school show or football team. If you're playing the trumpet in a concert in Wishaw, it should enhance the school," he said. P> He accepts the approach is at odds with the current emphasis on centres of excellence located in one school and the sports college model south of the border. North Lanarkshire's scheme was "a campus approach to delivery".
The sports programme has already been piloted through volleyball, rugby and gymnastics and will expand to other sports at six centres, four nights a week at recreational, developmental and elite levels. Young people will have the chance between 4-7pm to sample sports and develop talents at least once a week.
Sports festivals are also planned.
John French, school sport development manager, said pound;70,000 had been budgeted for taxis and buses over the three years. Nine out of 10 staff involved are teachers, supported by coaches. For the past year, 60 pupils from S2 and S3 in six schools have tested the scheme's viability by joining rugby coaching sessions at Bellshill Academy, with a link to the local club. "Some schools cannot sustain teams," Mr French said.
Before the scheme was tested in gymnastics there were 14 teams and 170 pupils involved. This year there are 40 teams and 270 pupils, Mr French revealed.
John O'Dowd, music adviser, said P6 and S1 pupils would be able to join one of nine instrumental and 13 choral groups. Each primary could send up to 10 pupils for a 90-minute session. "We will be trying to redress the dearth of singing," he said.
More than 500 pupils are already involved but 70-80 pupils with instruments are not attached to bands, Mr O'Dowd added.
Ann Armstrong, arts link officer, hopes to raise the profile of the visual arts in school and out. The scheme will include craft work.