Please don't pinch the cash
Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, said he was backing a plan put forward by the previous government to rejuvenate extracurricular activities by channelling lottery money via the Scottish Sports Council to schools.
Mr Wilson promised "no quick fixes, no initiatives designed simply to look good" and pledged to examine all parts of the school sport jigsaw and, over time, devise a suitable framework to carry sport forwards. Primary PE was one target for further research.
But while delegates welcomed the announcement as a major boost for school sport they warned that jobs could be at risk if headteachers tried to use the money to cut down on the need for PE teachers.
David Sommerville, head of community services in Fife, who was representing the Association of Directors of Education, cautioned: "Resources require to be ring-fenced." Stewart Harris, director of Team Sport Scotland, said: "This is not a substitute or replacement. This is additional, an enhancement. There is a job to be done."
Mr Wilson gave an "absolute commitment" to reverse the decline in sport and paid tribute to the work of teachers in continuing to run extracurricular activities "when you often must have felt the world was conspiring against you".
The minister added: "The education-oriented environment of school provides the perfect setting in which to reach children and encourage a positive approach to physical and sporting activity which can deliver lifelong rewards and benefits. In return, sport can enrich a school and play a positive role in the wider social development of children."
But improvements were not just within the gift of government and would need the support of councils and governing bodies. "For too long it has all rested on a few committed individuals operating in a vacuum with too little support and that is what we must provide," he said.
He confirmed reports that that the sports council has been asked to produce a plan for investing lottery money in schools by August. "Any scheme must conform to the general rule that it must be truly additional to any current Government programme. But I am confident we can find ways to utilise lottery funding to the benefit of curricular and extracurricular activities," he said.
Lottery cash will have to be matched by councils and will be available for an unspecified period. Under the plan, co-ordinators, almost certainly PE teachers, will be released for at least a day a week to run events and coaching sessions and to recruit volunteers. The council accepts it may be several years before the majority of secondaries opt in to what is a voluntary scheme.
The Government hopes to put co-ordinators in every secondary following a further 17 pilot schemes in all East and West Lothian schools. Mr Wilson did not rule out further action to promote sport. But John Cairney, a retired PE teacher and Educational Institute of Scotland representative, warned later that "jiggered teachers" were unlikely to volunteer for extracurricular sport when staff were losing jobs, resources were decreasing and morale was low. "Gordon Brown (the Chancellor) should have been addressing us, not Brian Wilson, " Mr Cairney said.
* The Education Minister has backed prompt action to prevent playing-fields falling into the hands of developers, an initiative supported by the Conservative administration. "If one facility is lost then another must be created in its place. We must not have a net loss of playing fields," Brian Wilson said.
* A survey of directors of education has revealed strong support for school sport. They suggest sports development could be strengthened by flexible use of staff time, revised contracts, cohesive planning and increased use of parents and volunteers. Payments for teachers would also help.