At Dollar Academy games are as important as any other aspect of the curriculum. David Henderson reports
Twenty-four teachers, in addition to six physical education staff, turn out regularly on Saturdays to help with 24 hockey and rugby teams at Dollar Academy, in Clackmannanshire, offering encouragement on the touchline, supervising travel and generally being in charge.
Around 65 per cent of the senior school of 760 pupils are involved voluntarily in extra-curricular sport, making up two teams in each year group, drawn from squads. They train twice a week after school and play competitively at weekends.
Such numbers - of pupils and teachers - taking part in extra-curricular sports would be the envy of many secondary schools. But rector John Robertson says the school has had to work hard to achieve its current participation levels on merely adequate facilities. Plans to build a new gym and games hall and lay an all-weather surface will take the school a step further, he believes. "We do not have perfect facilities, but what we do have is well used," he says.
Sport in the independent schools sector has been viewed by many as a model for the state sector and in terms of results Dollar, which sits in the shadow of the Ochil hills, performs remarkably well. It is renowned for rugby and has produced a succession of schoolboy internationals.
But the boys and girls are offered a wide range of sports. The after-school programme for Mondays, for example, offers skiing, cricket, swimming, cross-country running, football, tennis, athletics, hockey and rugby. Mind you, there is a clash with the philosophy club and the ceramics group.
Other days in the week are equally packed with opportunities to try anything from rock climbing to curling. Arts and music share an equal place in the limelight, alternating with sports after school. Pupils can do sports one night and an arts activity the next, if they like.
Mr Robertson has a broad view of what constitutes education and a rounded pupil and sport is viewed as central to the life of the school. He says:
"Sport is not something that is extra-curricular. In the Dollar curriculum there is nothing more important than anything else. It's all part of the full Dollar curriculum. Our children want to participate and I do not need to bring in extra support from the outside. We do not have a games afternoon because that carries a hint of compulsion."
Mr Robertson, a member of the Sportscotland school sport advisory group and keen follower of cricket, argues there are clear links between out-of-hours activities and classroom success. "The knock-on effects are important and encourage youngsters' self-esteem. The teacher who is working with children on a Saturday is going to find that relationship enriched. Some kids come on side because of that special relationship," he says.
Dollar, like other independent schools, is able to offer salary enhancement to teachers who join in the full life of the school, working with pupils outside school hours wherever the teachers' talents and interests lie. When they sign up, they know the expectation.
Independent schools have not opted to join the national sports co-ordinator programme, perhaps because they have largely retained traditional structures and participation levels and feel the scheme is not aimed at them. But Dollar has devised its own programme.
John Foster, Dollar's head of physical education and leading rugby coach, last year transmogrified into head of sport, a new appointment believed to be the first in Scotland. Now a separate head of PE looks after the formal PE curriculum. The change resulted from a trip to Canada.
Two years ago, Mr Foster took the 1st 15 rugby team to Vancouver to broaden the boys' horizons and ended up also widening his own view about the organisation of school sports. All the visited schools had a head of curriculum PE and a head of games. Mr Robertson backed the formula and now Mr Foster splits his time 60:40 between delivering the PE curriculum and organising the sports programme, which has been removed from the PE teachers' remit.
"In PE we were treading water because non-teaching time was concentrated on extra-curricular programmes," Mr Foster explains. "We needed to free up time for curriculum matters. I took all sport out of the department. It's now driving towards certification and delivering the core curriculum."
All pupils in the adjoining primary school are offered a broad-based PE curriculum of movement, swimming and ball skills, while in the secondary school, all pupils take core PE up to S5 and where possible in S6. Other subjects lose an hour in a rotational timetable to allow time for PE.
The philosophy is simple: give all pupils a broad programme of physical activities and encourage the keenest to take part in more after school.
Mr Foster organises the fixtures, coaching, travel arrangements and staff support, aiming to take the strain off teachers who lend their support. It's not that different from the national sports co-ordinator scheme, but with more time and whole-hearted commitment from the school. "With over 300 young people taking part, it's not a one day a week job," he notes.
Parents support teams but are not involved in any organisation or coaching and no outside coaches are used. Mr Foster believes that teachers are still best qualified to deliver the sports programme and create an ethos of fair play.
"He takes away the pain of administration," Mr Robertson says.
"Saturday morning is not an extra," Mr Foster emphasises, "It's the highlight of the week.
"The satisfaction comes with introducing sport to youngsters."