MINISTERS' narrow focus on driving up attainment and standards is pressurising teachers, squeezing the life out of school sport and minimising the contribution it can make to pupils' lives, the Educational Institute of Scotland's general secretary warned last week ahead of the publication of the McCrone inquiry.
Offering a personal view, Ronnie Smith told the Scottish Schoolsport Federation conference in Livingston there was nothing in the Scottish Executive's proposed priorities for education which suggested any place for sport.
"School sport is going to have to work quite hard to establish its position because of the ethos and climate in the schools. We know the language of driving up standards, improved attainment, ensuring excellence, continuous improvement and so on," Mr Smith said.
"I can see nothing in the proposed list of national priorities that points to any kind of place whatsoever attached to this area, whether in terms of outcomes, inputs, action areas or measures of performance.
"School sport does not get a mention, is not registering, and if the Executive's priorities are adopted it will only be human nature if teachers and headteachers - knowing their schools are going to be inspected, reported on and judged on their contribution to meeting these priorities - focus on them."
Pupils were already the most taught of any in the advanced world. The EIS's evidence was that teachers were under severe pressure in terms of time and performance. Ministers' moves for easier and faster dismissal of teachers deemed incompetent and for continuing professional development would increase the strain.
Mr Smith added: "Where does all this get fitted into 24 hours a day? The real problem is that when push comes to shove there is a new agenda out there and it is about quality and standards and employability in the context of globalisation and the knowledge economy. Unless school sport can genuinely and persuasively argue it has got a real contribution to make in that context, then I fear for its future."
School sport had to mke an almost utilitarian argument for a place in the Executive's agenda and arguments about the value of sport to pupils' development were matched in other subjects.
Roger Stewart, director of education in West Lothian, said that the Executive's spending priorities over the past two years had been on pushing up attainment in specific ways. Councils had little freedom to innovate.
He said it was clear from the interview with Rhona Brankin, the Sports Minister, in last week's TES Scotland that there was "no concrete action and no attachment to resources" for school sport. It was a pessimistic message.
Mr Stewart said: "I do not think school sport will be delivered by teachers and I am not sure it should. I think the leadership should be in the hands of the professional educators but there is surely a role for paraprofessionals. How do we support a greater involvement?"
Donald Matheson, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, urged ministers and the profession to take a "holistic" view of the drive for attainment. "Literacy and numeracy are important but they are means to an end, not an end in themselves," Mr Matheson cautioned.
The role of teachers in the extended curriculum was crucial, although "understandably" not all teachers were willing to become involved. Conditions of service had to recognise the value of such contributions.
Judith Gillespie, development manager at the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, expressed anxiety that sport was being "caught up" in attainment targets and the push on standards.
Mrs Gillespie is also concerned that young people should leave school with a love of sport and a recognition of its value. Too often, sports facilities turned them off.
Referring to experiences in Edinburgh, where she was a school board chair, she said: "You cannot expect youngsters today to go out in muddy fields, come back in and have a cold shower in facilities where there are no doors on the toilets, green slime on the walls and rats running around."
Leader, page 14 Gerry McCann