Who'll captain the side?

1st June 2001 at 01:00
The annual conference on school sport in Livingston today (Friday) focuses on what is in play after the McCrone agreement. Charlie Raeburn reports

HE Federation of Scottish School Sports Associations at its first seminar in 1989 concluded that school sport should be defined as a voluntary extracurricular activity. A long list of obstacles to be overcome was identified but the abiding memory is of the strength of feeling that school sport should have as its main reference point education, not sport. This has remained contentious.

Before the Munn and Dunning reports in 1977, schools had substantial time for informal learning and teaching, in which physical education and sport were important. There was a patchwork of provision: many schools offered a rich diet while others were perhaps more concerned with the best football team in each year.

But then all teachers had to take on development of Standard grade and later Higher courses. This proved particularly demanding for PE teachers, because of the practical nature of their subject and the importance of it in personal and social education. While many good courses have been developed, the educational establishment has spent little time on the more expressive, emotional and physical aspects of teaching and learning.

The Scottish Sports Council took the view in 1988 that school sport was dead, and that school-aged sport was the way forward. Various reports were produced and initiatives launched to develop links with clubs, and to offer what was often a one-off experience at a school sport festival.

Much of this thinking failed because of the fragility of the club sport infrastructure. Instead FOSSSA and its successor, the Scottish Schoolsport Federation, have championed what we now know as school sport in the extended curriculum.

During the early 1990s, school sport began to revive through the voluntary efforts of teachers and others in some schools and school sports associations. One or two authorities established education sports units. The Sports Council changed its stance to offer more support to school sport through seedcorn funding: in 1993 along with certain local authorities it began to establish the part-time post of secondary school sports cordinators who have certainly strengthened the infrastructure. It is unfortunate that while the publicity for these posts has bee great, investment has been so modest. The coordinators are only a cog, working with volunteer teachers and others.

Over the past three years funding has been targeted at out of school learning activities, and in particular study support, as part of the Government's raising achievement agenda. In many schools this has created tension with sport feeling unrecognised and unsupported.

It is the exceptional primary school that offers, football apart, a range of sports after school. The pilot project on the "active primary school" in a number of primary school "clusters" is trying to increase physical activity levels. The average primary child receives only 50 minutes of PE a week, less than half of what is provided on the continent - or in independent schools.

Yet we are poised to move into more exciting times with politicians recognising the potential. In England, more than 130 secondary "sports colleges" offer enhanced physical education. Here the official Scottish health agenda incorporates physical activity for the first time, through concern at the reduction in basic "physical literacy", such as standing, walking, breathing, jumping and lifting. The sports organisations want more participants, and more success. Anti-crime strategies seek "diversionary" activities. Employers want to recruit well-rounded citizens.

The New Opportunities Fund is to devote pound;94 million over four years to school sport and PE in Scotland and outdoor and adventure activities. There will be consultation on the details this month, with practical outcomes by October.

My fear is that despite the interest and investment, there is no clear understanding of the extended curriculum; substantial contractual issues have still to be sorted in the light of the McCrone agreement; the sports infrastructure is still very weak; and there is no clear commitment from the educational establishment. The result could be semi-detached school sport, offered by low-paid coaches with little involvement in educational development.

The Scottish Schoolsport Federation has for some time advocated a new unit or agency to steer future development. We await decisions from the Executive. The challenge is on behalf of the youngsters: can we engage them in sports, in physical activity and in play?

Charlie Raeburn is chairman of the Scottish Schoolsport Federation.

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