The Scottish Rugby Union is reaching out to the public sector with what is expected to eventually be an investment of over £3m which it hopes will boost player numbers.
This is an important and arguably essential project given the tightness of gambling resources in Scotland. The men’s national team’s reliance on those who qualify through grandparents or residency is proof enough that the country is not developing our own talent enough.
The broader issue of keeping young people engaged in sport is perhaps even more important given the health and social benefits that flow from it.
The programme, which will be implemented over the next six years and will have a total new budget of £540,000 allocated to support it on an annual basis, has six strategic objectives:
1. Increase rugby activity in schools.
2. Increase the number and diversity of students involved in the game.
3. Improve game quality.
4. Increase the number of games played by public school teams.
5. Strengthen ties with clubs to increase player and volunteer retention.
6. Support the implementation of the Scottish Rugby Women’s and Girls’ Strategy.
Gav Scott, director of rugby development at Scottish Rugby, knows that competing interests mean it’s harder than ever to keep youngsters involved, but he’s been encouraged by the results of the pilots in the north-east. ‘Scotland.
“The landscape of rugby schools has changed tremendously,” said Scott. “There are fewer traditional rugby PE teachers who would run five teams on a Saturday morning.
“But over the last couple of years we’ve found that we’re more able to integrate rugby into schools. Through our pilot programs we’ve found that we’ve been able to respond to the excellence curriculum and to other educational criteria, and in areas like the Aberdeenshire council, they are rolling out rugby as part of the program for everyone because our team there have managed to integrate our rugby programs in a way that helps them to demonstrate that they can use it as one of the vehicles to help close the achievement gap and give children more confidence and self-esteem.
“We strongly believe that there should be more than two hours of physical education per week in schools for secondary school students and that physical education and sport should be more widely accessible in the curriculum and as part of the school day.”
1999 Five Nations winner Peter Walton was appointed to unearth qualified runners in Scotland.
The amount of money pumped into rugby at many fee-paying schools in Scotland means they are ahead in terms of the teams and players they produce. They dominated the Scottish Schools Cup and we must go back to the triumph of Bell Baxter HS in 2006-07 for the last time the trophy was won by a public school.
With many fee-paying schools hiring ex-players to lead their training and investing in expertise in strength and conditioning, video analysis and nutrition, the level playing field is hardly a level playing field, especially when they then attract some of the best talent from public schools. with scholarship offers, but Scott knows they are bringing in players for professional play.
“They have great rugby programs and I’m absolutely delighted with the programs they offer,” he said. But he wants to close the gap.
“It’s a basic strategy,” he continued. “We are saying nationally that we want to work with public schools and work in a way that we can help, so that schools are able to do this and we have invested people in these schools and we can bring them to a standard so that they can start to compete with other schools, independent or not. And we know it will take time.
“We’re the ones giving the scaffolding to schools to see how they can fit into the system and how we can support them.”
The first area of investment includes the recruitment of six school rugby officers who will develop curricular and extracurricular programs and seek to increase the diversity of the students involved. They will work closely with local rugby development officials and will also seek to ‘upgrade’ teachers in rugby terms.
Two of the six school rugby officers will be based in Glasgow. It’s the most densely populated city, but you could probably count on one hand the number of Glasgow state school students who have played for the Glasgow Warriors and Scott knows the city could be a huge source of untapped potential.
“I think this is a great opportunity for Scottish rugby,” he said. “We know there are 70,000 schoolchildren in Glasgow city center and that is something we can support more. We realize the growth potential there. It is an opportunity for us to enter schools where we have never been before.
The results of the pilot program have been encouraging. In Dundee, there had been a real decline in rugby in public schools, so much so that none played the sport six years ago.
“We have employed a regional development officer, Sarah Hogwood, and her role for the past three years has been to target rugby in public schools in Dundee and we are now at a point where we have five secondary schools in Dundee which have rugby on their programme,” said Steve Turnbull, director of rugby at Caledonia Midlands.
The goal now is to replicate this nationwide, working in partnership with clubs.
“Our strategy shows a clear statement of intent to improve current offerings and develop new partnerships between schools, local authorities, clubs and other stakeholders, while providing the equipment, training and supply necessary to enable public schools to provide high quality rugby programs and environments,” added Scott.
“The quality and variety of playing and training opportunities in public schools have a significant influence on people’s lifelong engagement in rugby…which is built on inclusion, respect and well-being.”