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Match making

Match making

When Jacqui Lynn took up her role at sportscotland at the beginning of 2009, the Active Schools programme was midway through its ten-year lifespan. She had come from managing the team who had won Britain’s first ever Boccia gold medal at the Paralympics in Beijing, but she insists the five years heading up school and community sports at sportscotland has been exciting in its own way.

From hockey to karate to dance, participation in Active School sessions has increased “year on year”, she says, with 5.8m sessions taking place in 2014. “It’s been an exciting period, what with the Olympics, Paralympics and the Commonwealth Games, so I mean, it’s been an amazing time for us all.”
Bolstered by the Commonwealth Games legacy activity, Active Girls initiatives and the climax of ClubGolf building on the 2014 Ryder Cup success, more school pupils have been involved this year than ever before, spanning P1 to S6. 
“The journey has been quite exciting,” says Lynn, “The amazing thing is that we’ve had the network now for ten years. With our partners in local authorities, the leisure trusts and schools we’ve been able to continue it. That’s been great.”
The key to success, according to Lynn, has been consistency in approach to the outcomes. “I think what we have been doing is focusing on the outcomes, and the nice thing is they haven’t changed. It’s about more and better opportunities in sport for children and young people before school, at lunchtime and after school.”
As well as increased participation in sport, this year has seen greater awareness of the benefits. Improved health, skills development, social cohesion and economic development have all been cited as outcomes of a successful games legacy and sports strategy.
Since she took the helm, Lynn has been able to enjoy support and buy-in for Active Schools from the Cabinet Secretary for Sport Shona Robison, as well as the 32 local authorities who have topped up the £12.5m funding to provide sustainable investment that is making a real difference. The improvement, she says, has been driven by developments made on the back of information gathered from local authorities, which reflects the activity that takes place as part of the programme.
“We’ve got data that comes nationally, regionally and locally, right down to what’s going on in schools, so I think that’s helped improve the quality. Look at the activity sessions and there’s over a hundred activities young people across Scotland now get access to,” she says.
Some schools are reporting how attainment and wellbeing have been improved. Lynn remembers talking to a headteacher in West Lothian who said Active Schools had helped him and his school. “We’ve got some fantastic reports back from headteachers that sport’s really made a difference in their schools to the children and young people and their confidence. I’m very privileged in my job.” 
As well as motivating and inspiring young people to participate in sport, the programme has engaged over 400 coordinators and 21,000 deliverers, the majority of them volunteers. “They’ve been on this journey with us. We’ve really looked at their priorities and worked with them to make sure we can see a difference, and what they’re doing in their local communities and local schools is really providing what the young people want,” says Lynn.
The sheer number of community people involved in this network has made linking the increased hours of PE in schools, the Active Schools sessions and community clubs easier, she says, formalising the relationship between community sport and education. “The important thing is the kids get the fundamentals at school and get good quality physical education, and after school, the quality of the Active Schools is really good. The bigger picture for us is then what they do in their clubs in the community.”
The Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment Bill has seen renewed focus on supporting communities to make decisions for themselves, and for sportscotland, this has already been happening through their community sport hubs, where improved facilities and coordination have allowed local sports clubs to build links with each other and Active Schools, and take a leadership role. 
“I think community sport hubs has been a fantastic addition. We always said it’s not new, but it had to be different and it is.  We now have community clubs coming together to share experience, skills resources and ideas as part of a  community sport hub which is getting the communities engaged in what they want, and making sure it’s about their priorities,” says Lynn.
sportscotland is committing to this integrated approach with a new four-year investment, which will build on the ten years of Active Schools with more and better quality opportunities to participate in sport within schools, and also put more focus on linking with club sports.
“You’ll see the ten years of Active Schools, it’s embedded within the school culture. Ten years into the performance structure you can see the success of the teams and our institute and the quality of that. Now this is a time for club sports, and how we really connect with your Harriers, or the man who runs the local football club. How do they see themselves as part of that system?
“And how do we connect it all together so young people have fantastic opportunities when they leave school in the clubs? People keep thinking ‘is it as simple as that?’ Don’t get me wrong, it’s not without challenges because it’s about people and resource, but in my eyes there’s never been a better time for Active Schools, clubs and sport in Scotland.”
Lynn is also undertaking strategic meetings with every local authority to discuss their continued commitment to the provision of opportunities for communities to participate and develop their sporting potential. While historically, councils may have tended to see sports and recreation services as ‘cinderella services’ or a luxury, Lynn believes Active Schools has shown the value of investing in sport. Ten of the 32 local authorities have already committed in principle to continue their investment in the Active Schools Programme.
She has been pleased with the response so far, given the current financial climate. “I think they see Active Schools really embedded in their schools and communities. And they see the difference it’s made to the young people in their communities. The other side of the contribution we bring is 75 per cent of the funding towards it which, at a time when budgets are tight, really helps them with their choices.”
sportscotland has completed an evaluation of Active Schools and Community Sport Hubs which involved feedback from managers, headteachers, coordinators and the young people themselves. The response will help shape the next four years, says Lynn. “We’ve got a meeting of the managers in November, listening to them about what Active Schools will look like over the next four years, and what we need to be doing now as we move forward,” she says.
A commitment to making sure young people are at the heart of decision-making and improvement is “a key thing for the future,” Lynn says, which will build on the young people’s sport panel, and sportscotland’s Young Ambassadors scheme. “Every secondary school has two young ambassadors, and their role is to then raise the profile and influence sport in the school, so that’s then embedded in Active Schools, and was one of the things that came out of the evaluation. The leadership role of young people will be a really key thing moving forward.”
The young people’s sport panel is a partnership with Young Scot which sees 16 young people aged between 14 and 24 consulted on strategy. “We’ve already had a consultation session with them around what they think of our corporate plan and what that looks like, what they think of Active Schools. We’ve got young hub leaders as part of community sports hubs, so it really is not just saying it, it’s actually living and breathing it. These young people are just phenomenal,” says Lynn.
Community empowerment will also be backed by facilities benefitting from spending on the school estate, and the Legacy 2014 Active Places Fund, the Scottish Government’s £10m pot to upgrade or create new sports and physical activity infrastructure. The latest round will see 47 projects across Scotland share £2.4m, bringing the total number of Active Places up to 156. Applications for the final round of awards are open until February. 
Lynn sees investment in the schools estate, sports facilities throughout the country, and the new National Performance Centre for Sport at Heriot-Watt University as just as important when it comes to providing opportunities. “All of this is making the opportunities and the quality of opportunities for young people and their communities much greater. The timing has been great.”  

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