Trying for a rugby conversion

8th October 2010 at 01:00
A pioneering scheme aims to yield a new generation of stars for the sport - and more immediate benefits in the classroom

Scotland's tumbling fortunes in football are often blamed on the 1980s teachers' strikes, when extra-curricular coaching disappeared from many schools. But rugby arguably suffered even more - football, as the national game, remained the top sporting priority, while rugby was wiped from chunks of the map.

Rugby was popular at Grange Academy in Kilmarnock in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s but, barring a brief revival a few years ago when former Wales international Rob Ackerman was a PE teacher, it has barely been played in the school since then.

Yet there is still latent enthusiasm for rugby, in a part of the country with strong local clubs, on which a groundbreaking initiative will build.

The Scottish Rugby Union hopes to emulate the success of the Scottish Football Association's Schools of Football programme, which incorporates that sport into the school day. School of Rugby started this year at Grange Academy and Cumnock Academy as a two-year trial costing pound;20,400.

At Grange (which has also become a School of Football this year), 20 S1 boys get one hour a day of rugby - the programme is open to girls but none expressed an interest.

Coaching from Kilmarnock RFC development officer Stevie Edwards - whose club provides funding along with the Scottish Government, Cumnock RFC and East Ayrshire Council - blends with work on broader sporting issues, such as healthy eating.

Acting depute head and PE teacher Lee Findlay believes that, by combining physical, emotional and academic development, it will make the transition to secondary school easier for the boys.

The incentive of rugby ensures that extra homework does not seem much of a chore for Gregor Paxton, 12. It makes him work harder, he says, and he goes into the next class after a training session on a high. He is well aware that the rugby players are expected to apply their good habits at all times, and be a role model - otherwise, he says, "you're kicked out".

The scheme would not have been possible without Curriculum for Excellence, with its emphasis on health and well-being and curricular flexibility, believes headteacher Fred Wildridge. The school has been gearing up for CfE for years, with four of 30 weekly periods in the S1 timetable given over to "electives", such as Chinese or photography. The School of Rugby players only have to find one more hour, taken from technical education or French.

Early signs for the programme are good, says Mr Wildridge: there appears to be a rise in awards for positive behaviour through the school's "merits" system, and the boys are making smooth switches to other classes: "They don't appear to be setting themselves as a group apart."

Some parents were reluctant for their children to take part, in case other subjects suffered. This is one of those leaps of faith you sometimes have to take in a school, Mr Woolridge explains. He hopes the focus on rugby will help attainment rise, but there is no guarantee: "We won't get an answer on that for another four years."


Edinburgh may have the national stadium, but Hawick can claim to be the true centre of Scottish rugby. The Borders town, which was home to legendary commentator Bill McLaren, has produced 58 rugby internationals and won the official Scottish championship a record 13 times since it started in 1972.

It is appropriate, therefore, that Hawick High has started its own school of rugby programme. But it has given it a different emphasis from that in East Ayrshire - making rugby a certificated subject.

There are 19 S3 boys on the 120-hour course, which comprises four hours a week, evenly divided between practical and theory elements.

They will gain a qualification - to be assessed continuously - equivalent to Intermediate 2 or Standard grade Credit.

Former Scotland rugby international Dee Paterson will oversee the practical side, covering essential skills such as passing and tackling, while the boys will use the theory sessions to analyse their performances in matches.

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