Active Schools: Parents remain unconvinced charging ban will not affect extra-curricular activities

Parent councils fear new rules which ban charging for after-school sports clubs cannot be made to work and children will lose out, despite assurances from education bosses that problems can be overcome.

Scotland on Sunday revealed last week how Sportscotland's policy that extra-curricular activities should be free to all users appeared to be backfiring because in many schools sessions depended on a modest charge of around £2 to pay for a coach.

Parents said the charging ban had made many after-school sports no longer viable and caused a dramatic drop in the range of extra-curricular activities on offer.

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The issue was raised at a meeting of Edinburgh's education committee on Tuesday and interim education director Julien Kramer said: "We believe our programme is sustainable and can be recovered completely. It will require us to be agile and to think things through anew. We need to be thinking and working differently."

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And officials insisted parent bodies were not being asked to fund the sessions themselves.

But one parent council member, who asked not to be named, said: "We were incensed by the patronising 'parents are confused, it's all going to be fine' attitude.

"And it wasn't an honest account of what's happened. It's that disconnect between us being told if we wanted to carry on we would have to find the money ourselves and the report claiming no parent council has been asked. What was in that report did not reflect the reality.

"The way it was presented to us was we should be asking for a donation from parents and that could come through ParentPay, which is how we pay for school dinners and kids' trips and so on.

"But that would be a logistical nightmare because it goes into a big pot, so you would need an administrator to work out who's paid and who hasn't – and if it's a donation you couldn't chase it anyway.

"How did it suddenly become the responsibility of parent councils to make sure there is adequate after-school provision for sport and recreation?"

She said she had spoken to parent council representatives from other schools and none had been reassured by the comments at the committee.

And she questioned the need for the charging ban.

"The system wasn't broken – people were very happy to pay £2 rather than pay £7 for a club. It was a really good deal and there were systems in place for those who couldn't afford it.

"Now they've gone for free provision, but there's no provision to access."

The committee agreed to get a report at its next meeting on full details of what activities were on offer before the pandemic, what is available now and what charges were involved.

Callum Laidlaw, Tory education spokesman on the City of Edinburgh Council, said: "Many people have understandable concerns that without council support to deliver professional coaching, the breadth of offer in our city’s state schools will decline, and high level competitive sport will become the preserve of children attending independent schools or able to pay for expensive private clubs."

He said schools, parents groups and clubs were being required to find new ways of working without additional costs. "I think the reality is a lot of them will just say we can't do this and there will be a real drop-off in the offer in our schools."

And Lib Dem councillor Louise Young worried that children's chances would depend on whether the parent council at their school could afford to pay for activities.

"We run a risk of having a geographical lottery. We shouldn't have a position where a child is going to be affected by what happens to be available in their area."

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