McLeish: “Every one of our school estates should be opened up for community use 52 weeks per year"
School estates must be opened for community use throughout the year and outwith the school day so that Scotland can make best use of the sporting legacy of major events like the Olympic Games and Andy Murray’s win at the US Open, experts have said.
Joining a growing chorus of leaders in the sports sector, former First Minister Henry McLeish writes in this edition of Holyrood that schools have “particular significance” in efforts to improve public health and increase community cohesion through sport.
“Every one of our school estates should be opened up for community use 52 weeks per year,” McLeish says. “Some do, but there is still a mountain to climb. Schools are paid for by the taxpayer and are run for the benefit of each community they serve.
“The public own the schools and should be in a strong position to urge the Government to invest money in opening up the sporting and fitness facilities which in too many cases lie unused at a time when there is so much unmet need in our communities.
“The marginal cost required would provide a massive return on investment and more to the point, a much healthier cohort of children and young Scots.”
McLeish joins figures from the Scottish Sports Association and sportscotland, who have in recent weeks told MSPs from the Health and Sport Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into community sport, that valuable sporting assets on school estates too often remain out of reach for communities.
sportscotland chief executive, Stewart Harris, told MSPs on the committee earlier this month that increasing the participation of schools in its Community Sports Hub programme would have a significant impact on participation in sport.
“If I were greedy, I would say that we should consider making every secondary school in Scotland a sport hub. If what has happened at Larbert High School, Stenhousemuir Football Club and the other sports clubs around the school were replicated, the difference in the situation in Scotland would be fantastic, but it will take commitment nationally and locally for that to happen,” he said.
Both McLeish and Harris add that one of the main obstacles in making school estates available are the PFI contracts under which many were built and are operated. sportscotland is publishing a survey of school access in all 32 local authorities later this year.