HUNDREDS OF new sports clubs have been created for Renfrewshire primary pupils by turning senior pupils into coaches.
The Renfrewshire School of Sport Education, now in its third year, has been a huge success, creating 486 regular after-school and lunchtime sports sessions this year alone far outstripping sportscotland's target of 44 new clubs.
Although teenagers train as sports coaches in other schemes across the country, Renfrewshire staff believe the scale of their project makes it unique in Scotland. In addition to their normal school studies, the 18 pupils involved have racked up almost 6,000 hours of voluntary work since the start of the school year, as well as spending three hours every Wednesday studying at Paisley University.
Vivienne Inglis, a PE, sport and physical activity co-ordinator at Renfrewshire Council, said: "One of the reasons I pushed for the project in 2004 was because, when I was a PE teacher and Active Schools co-ordinator, I noticed there was a lack of volunteers and kids were missing out on sport."
On top of the 486 regular sessions created this year which offer activities such as dance as well as sport the 18 participants have taken some S1 and S2 classes in their own schools. They have also organised large events, such as the inter-school games held at Linwood Sports Centre last week, involving 280 primary pupils from several schools. Miss Inglis stressed that the youngsters on the programme did all the planning of such events themselves.
The commitment of staff to getting each batch of teenagers through the scheme is considerable. They have to cobble together pound;8,000 of funding from various sources each year, and many staff Miss Inglis, fellow co-ordinator Craig Corr and the local Active Schools team among them give up hours of their own time to help.
Lottery funding for the scheme expires this year, but staff are hopeful that other sources of cash will be found and that most of the clubs established this year as well as others set up in the programme's first two years will be able to carry on. That aspiration is strengthened by the fact that several former participants are now working or still volunteering in the region.
About 50 Renfrewshire pupils apply to take part each year, and those chosen are not necessarily the most talented at sports. "We don't go for the sporty ones we go for the ones who have character and personality," said Miss Inglis.
Ailidh Campbell, 16, a fifth year at Johnstone High who is considering a career in primary teaching, did five Highers this year as well as the three hours a week at Paisley University and two hours of volunteering (those with less demanding timetables often do more).
Patrick Moran, 17, a fifth year at Trinity High, Renfrew, who would like to be a PE teacher or sports coach, said the the programme had been "hard work, but fun work", with the highlight a special needs festival that had opened his eyes to how sport could benefit all.
The participants work towards the Community Sports Leader Award and the TOP PlayTOP Sport Training qualification, which, along with four other national awards that make up the programme, allows them to work with young children.
Stewart Harris, chief executive of sportscotland, said: "This is a great example of the development of a pathway from schools to community sport and increases the likelihood of continued participation in sport into adulthood."
Meanwhile, last week saw the launch of the Renfrewshire Physical Activity, Sport and Health Strategy, aimed at encouraging people to be more active.