CHAMPIONS IN SCHOOLS REPORT: KEY FINDINGS
- 94.7 per cent of pupils participating in Champions in Schools felt they learned to appreciate that everyone has different strengths.
- 91.6 per cent learned that top athletes faced challenges just like them.
- 90.7 per cent appreciated the importance of effort.
- Significant difference between Champions in Schools group and control group in "intrinsic motivation", ambition, perseverance and effort.
- Little difference in ability to set goals between Champions in Schools group and control group.
- Champions in Schools group had more positive attitudes, more involvement in sport and physical activity and better understanding of a healthy lifestyle and diet.
- Some organisational issues, such as an athlete being less appreciated in a school where an Active Schools coordinator was based elsewhere, making communication difficult.
- Considerable media coverage organised by local authority at one case- study school caused timings to be "significantly disrupted".
Findings based on information gathered from several sources, including 411 pupils (mean age 13.7) from 14 schools, and 27 teachers or Active Schools coordinators from 17 schools
THE PITFALLS OF ROLLING OUT THE RED CARPET
The well-known figure from the world of sport got up to speak. Almost immediately, things fell flat. The sarky nonchalance that played so well on TV and radio left pupils cold - and the staff and parents at the primary school weren't too impressed either.
That was one example from a teacher of the inherent risk of inviting a public figure into a school. The Scottish Book Trust report on author events recognises, too, that some writers struggle to engage a room of fidgety pupils. Meanwhile, the Champions in Schools report shows how the naivety of athletes can hamper their work, as in one case involving S1-2 pupils. "I would never imagine that kids that age could not run 200 metres," said the disbelieving champion.
Bob Foley, head of PE at Midlothian's Newbattle Community High, favours long-term relationships with sports stars. Parachuting in a well-known athlete could work to a degree, but "it's up to the PE staff to make the visit relevant and valid, not to sit back and assume pupils will be in awe".
The Champions in Schools report cites previous research showing the importance of careful checks on potential role models' backgrounds, as "media intrusion into the lives of celebrity athletes reveals drug and alcohol abuse, wife and girlfriend beatings, extra-marital affairs and poor sportsmanship on pitch".
Derek Brown, head of Oldmachar Academy, is wary of people with a commercial agenda and "hard-bitten" business leaders, whose success may be built on a ruthlessness out of tune with school mantras about teamwork.
A little fine-tuning is sometimes required even when a speaker's message could scarcely be more laudable. Mr Brown worked at Jordanhill School in Glasgow when Clare Bertschinger - the nurse whose work in Ethiopia led to Michael Buerk's famous BBC report which, in turn, inspired Band Aid - spoke to pupils. She said people should not rely on politicians to change the world, that it was up to individuals, just as a tiny creature like a mosquito could wreak havoc. Mr Brown considered that a little out of step with a collective ethos more typical in Scotland; midges made for a better metaphor.
Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, believes visits from well-known people work well most of the time, but that the "grossly inflated salaries" of certain figures raise unrealistic expectations of young people. It is a view shared by ElfiPallis, an author who specialises in advising young people on how to improve their chances of getting into Oxbridge.
"High-profile role models can be sources of careers information, but unless picked carefully they can also engender heart-breakingly unrealistic expectations," she says.
She believes the most useful role models are often "mid-profile" ones: "Disadvantaged students given the chance to meet a rising civil servant were surprised to learn that someone not yet 30 was earning about pound;50,000 a year - a huge sum in their eyes - and also had a varied, interesting working day."
A cursory view of actor Greg McHugh's CV might make a school think twice about whether to ask him in as a speaker. His best-known roles are in TV comedies Gary: Tank Commander (as a buffoonish soldier) and Fresh Meat (as a socially inept student with odd mannerisms).
But Mr McHugh's keynote address at last October's awards ceremony at St Thomas of Aquin's High in Edinburgh showed the rewards that can be reaped by taking a chance with a public figure.
"His address was the best I have witnessed in my six years at the school," recalls PE teacher Kevin Brown. "It would have been easy for him to slip into character and do a comedy routine, but instead he talked openly about his time at St Thomas's. He spoke about the feeling of community and how he felt he was encouraged to achieve."
The message was clear: pupils learned they could become "extraordinary through identifying something they loved doing and applying themselves to this".
Original headline: You shall pass: curtain up on visits from the stars