State schools are winning the struggle against poor pitches and gyms to rekindle enthusiasm among pupils Why are some schools more successful at sport? A TES Scotland survey of state schools throughout Scotland suggests that those with the best facilities do not always succeed in terms of results or numbers of participants.
Often just one member of staff provides the catalyst. Other factors are strong school-club links and a willingness of non-PE staff to help with coaching and training.
But one head of PE warns: "Only the bigger schools can compete with the private schools when it comes to sport. The private schools have the resources to pay coaches to come in and teach technical events."
Stonelaw High in Rutherglen has made its mark in cross-country in recent years and won eight trophies at the last Scottish championships. Alan Byrne, the school's head of PE, says: "We must have some of the poorest facilities in terms of PE in Scotland. We have to use what facilities there were in the area and the streets were available to us. We used those for our training and there is also a local park we use before the cross-country season to get the pupils used to running in the mud and the lousy weather."
The school, with a roll of 1,200, has a PE staff of six but Byrne admits a debt is owed to Murray McDonald, a modern studies teacher who has established a link with the local Cambuslang Harriers. The club has now started a girls section whereas in the past pupils went to Glasgow AC, Bellahouston or East Kilbride.
"It is important to have such a link as a school can only take pupils so far," Mr Byrne says. Stonelaw also has a multi-gym facility where pupils can train indoors.
At Peebles High, Jim Henderson, teacher in charge of rugby, readily admits that his school is at a disadvantage against any of the top independent schools. With a roll of just under 1,000, Peebles reached the final of the Scottish Schools' Cup this year but lost to Glasgow's St Aloysius' College, one of the few independent schools that enter. Mr Henderson is one of four rugby masters at the school (two are non-PE teachers) and puts the success down to hard work, strong club links and a supportive rector. "Coming from a part of Scotland where rugby is traditionally strong also helps but we have strong links with clubs in the area," he says.
"But I think success breeds success. If the first XV do well, then other teams want to emulate them. We have had strong first XVs for the past couple of years as well but lost in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Scottish Schools."
As well as Peebles Rugby Club, there are links with Gala Star, Melrose and Biggar. The school considered switching fixtures to Wednesday evenings to avoid pupils playing twice on Saturday (once for the school, once for the club) but that could have meant training or playing six days a week.
"We also offer a lot of other sports like hockey, volleyball, netball, tennis and athletics at the school," Mr Henderson says.
Holyrood Secondary in Glasgow is the only school to have won the Scottish under-13, under-14 and under-15 football trophies. "The main reason is that we have more than 2,000 pupils whereas other schools have maybe just 500 or 600.
"It is especially helpful when you have a big upper school and have more players to choose from," John Bourke, PE teacher and former Dundee United footballer, says.
"Also when you are pulling from areas like Govanhill and the Gorbals, there is a chance that a fair percentage of pupils will play football."
Holyrood does not rely solely on PE staff and "a fair supplement" of teachers from other subjects take teams. But Mr Bourke says: "Our facilities are terrible. We have one blaes pitch and three gyms but there is no games hall. Facilities in Glasgow are bad as a whole."
Holyrood has also achieved success with volleyball with the under-18 team winning the Scottish festival for their age-group.
Basketball began as a bit of a one-man band at rugby-dominated Marr College in Troon. But recently the volume has been pumped up to near-symphonic proportions at the 1,500-pupil Ayrshire school.
The "conductor" is economics teacher Tom Campbell, a former Scottish international and current team manager of the Scottish senior men's side, who derived his inspiration from the successful Cumnock Academy nursery of the 1970s and 1980s.
Mr Campbell coaches in the games hall every lunch-time, with upwards of 40 boys at some sessions. There are three evening sessions a week and holiday camps.
Marr won three out of the four Scottish Schools age-group competitions.
What is the secret of their success ? "The pupils are highly motivated and I am enthusiastic. But it has taken a lot of hard work to get to the level we have arrived at now where pupils want to emulate those who have gone before and are desperate to play basketball. There is definitely a transfer of skill between pupils. They want to copy."
The link with the local Troon club, which Mr Campbell runs, is also important. "We still don't have enough coaches or facilities but we do have kids with a dream."
Lack of facilities has not prevented McLaren High in Callendar from offering an impressive range of extra-curricular sports including football, rugby, basketball, swimming, badminton, tennis, skiing and aerobics. A recent success story is canoeing.
The most successful sport is probably rugby. Teams have been runners-up in all the Central Region competitions they took part in, thanks to the help of three members of staff.
The school roll is just under 800 with a staff of 50. "As many as 17 or 18 are involved in extracurricular sport," says Norrie Bairner, head of PE. The school has an antiquated gymnasium and small pool but work started last week on a new sports complex which will include a bigger pool and a games hall capable of housing four badminton courts.
A synthetic all-weather surface with floodlighting and a six-rink indoor bowls facility will be shared with the local community.
Rugby is currently the only sport with any links to an outside club and other activity is almost exclusively at lunch-times because of the distance pupils have to travel. "We must have one of the biggest catchment areas in Scotland with some children having to leave at 7am and even having breakfast in school so our sport has got to be done at lunch-times," Mr Bairner comments.
Like McLaren, Ellon Academy in Aberdeenshire is a rural school but with a much larger roll of 1,654. Teachers there also concentrate on lunch-time activities.
Colin Gallacher, head of guidance, has persuaded the school to include a hockey block in the curriculum from first year through to Higher PE. Strong links with the Ellon Gordon club are "the only way forward", Mr Gallacher says.
A grass pitch is available, but use of the astroturf pitch at the nearby sports complex assists the teaching of skills.
Outstanding players include Kenny Steel, aged 16, who has been chosen for the Scottish under-21 side that will visit San Diego in the United States, and goalkeeper Alistair McGregor, who started playing in primary 5 and was chosen for the Scottish under-15 team at the age of 12.