Children denied access to after-school sports clubs across Scotland



In Edinburgh, a change of course by the local authority to follow Sportscotland appears to have backfired in particular as its Active Schools program has been drastically cut, leaving many children without access to extracurricular activities.

In the rest of Scotland, after-school sport run through active schools is also operating at bare minimum in many areas, with some boards saying they are unable to restart clubs due to Covid restrictions.

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Jenny Litster, co-chair of the parents’ council at Stockbridge Primary in Edinburgh, said when her daughter returned to school after the summer break, she was surprised to find that the clubs she had previously enjoyed weren’t were more organized.

Helen Nickerson says Edinburgh Council policy has left her children’s school with very few extracurricular activities. SOS – Parent Case Study for Active Schools – Helen Nickerson

She previously liaised with Sportscotland’s Active Schools program to ensure the school had access to extracurricular sports activities.

Ms Litster said Active Schools had since told parent councils that their options were now either to pay the coaches out of school funds or to find volunteers to run the classes, which were often previously occupied by teachers. professionals. A third option is for schools to hire private companies to run sports clubs outside of the Active Schools banner, usually at a much higher cost to parents.

She said: “The Active Schools program was an extremely popular way for children to try out a wide range of sports for a small fee, with free places always available for families in need. Children could participate in activities with their friends, regardless of their parents’ income.

Before the pandemic, students had access to a full range of after-school clubs, at a cost of just a few pounds per class. Children entitled to free school meals did not have to pay. Now, there are only three extra-curricular courses offered to school children – compared to 17 – and none of them operate under the Active Schools banner.

“Yes, the small charge has been removed, but far from allowing the sports program to be more inclusive, its stated goal, it does exactly the opposite as there is now much less funding to pay coaches,” he said. she declared. “It just doesn’t seem like this policy has been thought through.

“Families who can afford it look – and pay – elsewhere for their extracurricular activities, and the children this policy was meant to help are left with very limited choice or nothing. This is not fair and only widens. the gap between children whose parents can afford to pay and those who cannot.

It is understood that there has been no official announcement that councils should stop charging parents for lessons, it is believed that Sportscotland has encouraged councils to make Active Schools program lessons free for users. as much as possible this year to increase physical activity. in children after months of confinement. Sports Minister Maree Todd said in response to a written parliamentary question last month that the Scottish government aims to make active schools free for all by the end of this parliament.

Some boards have traditionally managed Active Schools through a team of volunteer coaches – often made up of young athletic students seeking experience, as well as parents and school staff, while others have used a mix of volunteers and paid coaches. Local authorities in some areas have supplemented funding from SportScotland to make their sports programs free to users for a period of time. school provider.

Helen Nickerson, whose daughters attend Flora Stevenson Primary School in Edinburgh, said schools need to rely on parents to deal with the gaps suggested to them to organize all activities – while their children currently have access to a very limited number of activities.

She said: “When you are working and your children are in other daycare centers after school, it is difficult to take them to sports clubs and the advantage of active schools is that they revolve around the school day. What is lost is this ease of access. The idea is to make the activities free, but for the children who were given free places anyway, there are now no clubs to go to. “

She said the school was offered an Active Schools ‘bypass’ option, whereby the school can ask parents for a small ‘donation’ to fund clubs, but the course is advertised as free. by Active Schools.

“They told us that there might be some sort of work around, where we can charge something, but it has to be a donation. They just created a kind of loophole and it is very complicated and highly dependent on the parents to fix it. “

Sportscotland donates £ 11.8million per year to active schools, with the money being distributed to the 32 Scottish councils, but expect local authorities to match its contribution with their own funding, accounting for 40% of the total cost . All boards employ active school coordinators, who recruit volunteers or paid coaches to organize activities.

In documents to be reviewed by the Edinburgh City Council Education Committee on Tuesday, the local authority said in response to SportScotland’s request that it will now focus on recruiting volunteers from among parent groups, school staff, club coaches and senior students’ rather than paid. coaches. He also indicates that the coordinators of Active Schools “will help” with the administration, for example by leaving the classrooms to the schools to organize paid courses by private providers.

He adds: “Active Schools coordinators, principals, parents’ associations, clubs and coaches are required to find new ways of working that maintain and increase opportunities, but at no additional cost. . “

A council spokesperson said: “Sportscotland said active schools activity should be free, which complements our approaches to tackling school day poverty and the council’s commitment to ending school day poverty. poverty in the Scottish capital by 2030.

“We will be providing a cost-free after-school program for families and our team will focus on recruiting volunteers to ensure a wide range of activities are offered.”

A spokesperson for Sportscotland said: “The provision of active schools should be free for all participants and we will continue to support our partners in the 32 local communities to ensure this is the case.

“We believe that sport and physical activity will play a central role in the long-term recovery of the country from the pandemic and active schools programs will be at the heart of this. “

Many councils across Scotland said they were unable to restart after school activities due to Covid restrictions preventing active school volunteers and staff from entering schools – however, this was not is not the case in all areas.

High Life Highland (HLH) sports development manager Mags Duncan said before the pandemic the board had a team of 1,500 volunteers, but admitted fewer classes are now underway.

She said: “Although still affected by the pandemic, HLH offers an extracurricular activity where we have volunteers available and access to facilities. “

A spokesperson for the Fife Council said that although it had previously charged users a small fee for certain activities, its Active School classes would be free from this school year, as per Sportscotland guidelines. She said that although the majority of coaches were volunteers, it would work to find “alternative funding” to pay for all activities that have a cost, without passing it on to the students.

East Ayrshire Council said while all active school activities are free, no activities are currently underway due to Covid restrictions – and they plan to start classes after the October break, once he had recruited a “volunteer base”.

Meanwhile, the East Lothian council said it was working on the “implications” of SportScotland’s goal of making classes free – although it currently still charges a small fee for some classes.

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Covid Scotland: three quarters of primary schools have suspended sports activities …

A spokesperson for the Renfrewshire Council said the board does not charge for the activities of active schools, with courses being partly funded by the Renfrewshire Council, Sportscotland, Renfrewshire Leisure Limited and external grants.

He said: “The number of activities per week varies by school and is based on the number of volunteers currently available. We continue to re-engage our volunteer base now that external visitors to schools are allowed, and to expand the number of activities offered.

A spokesperson for the North Ayrshire Council said a “full program” was underway in North Ayrshire, in the context of guidance and Covid risk assessments, while the Western Isles Council said only clubs managed by school staff as part of the extension of the school day were authorized. away due to Covid regulations.

Last year, the North Lanarkshire council raised the idea of ​​cutting financial support for active schools, but turned around after outcry from parents.

MSP West Edinburgh and Scottish Liberal Democrats spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “It is so important to get young people active after the pandemic has robbed them of so many opportunities. amazing that parents are worried. We must make it easier for young people to play sports, not more difficult. “

Scottish Conservative MSP Brian Whittle added: ‘Every effort must be made to rebuild from the pandemic as a healthier and fitter nation. It is incredibly disappointing that the Active Schools program is not operational in many schools. Sports activities should be free as far as possible, in order to ensure as easy access as possible for young people. “

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