I was very pleased when I heard during the Scottish Parliaments Health and Sport Inquiry into Support for Community Sport, that SportScotland was commissioning Sheffield Hallam University to undertake an audit of the sports facilities in Scottish schools.
It is interesting that the Report makes no mention of Sheffield Hallam University. Was there any disagreement between the University and sportscotland about the content of the published report?
Such an audit is long overdue, as there are so many facilities; many of which are quite new and it is often not known how these school facilities fit into local sport facility strategies for local authority geographic area plans. In particular, how access is operated and the costs charged for facilities.
The published audit available on the SportScotland website, does clarify some of the generalities of provision – in particular the numbers of different types of facilities. However, the audit does not answer some of the more complex detailed questions about the design specifications. For example, swimming pools can come in a range of sizes – and their changing rooms can be very limited for use by use community groups, or, the differences between a typical primary school hall and a 6/8 court sized games hall. The audit also does not demonstrate whether there are meeting rooms for clubs to use.
The availability of the sports facilities for use by the community is a major part of the audit. However, many more questions are raised by the study. These include:
- What about school halls that are used for meetings, art groups, and school theatre productions et al?
- Any differentiation between commercial hiring of facilities for say dance, or martial arts, or 5-aside football or private swimming lessons AND community club usage? It must be of importance to understand the context in which sports participation happens (clubs or casual or commercial).
- What is the quality of community usage – and do the activities connect with the local framework for sport development?
- The audit does not demonstrate what percentage of the sports facilities are being used (e.g. all available facilities or only one facility at a time).
The audit outlines possible management arrangements. However, does not consider the all-important issue of policies on opening hours, and associated costs. This is a real problem for many of the schools that have been built in recent years under a PFI/PPP contract. These contracts will determine opening hours and days of the week. Not all these schools are “managed” by a PPP/PFI contractor. Some of the hire costs can be revealing! The costs associated with changing the contracts can also be challenging for local authorities.
Use of schools during the school holidays- the audit indicates that the schools only have limited usage over the school holidays. There is no mention about weekend usage.
The audit is a useful start to a much longer-term strategic view of the sports facilities within a geographic area. But much more detail is needed about the facilities themselves. SportScotland produced very useful design guidance on school sports facilities in 2006 (both for primary schools and for secondary schools). It seems that these guidelines have often not been used for many of the new school builds. Why not?
It is rather disappointing the major issue of community self-management of school sports facilities is not being examined in more detail. The audit does mention the Community Sports hubs- but it has to be said, that too often the facilities management in these hubs becomes bureaucratic and costly. There is really important job to be done to lower the costs of hiring facilities by community organisations. That can be achieved by empowering community groups to manage the facilities.
Sometimes clubs will only need a key!