With Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby flying high in Europe and the RBS Six Nations training camp well underway; it was the perfect time for Scottish Rugby to visit Scotland’s first School of Rugby at Grange Academy in Kilmarnock.
The School of Rugby initiative launched back in 2009 with a strong partnership being established between East Ayrshire Council, Scottish Rugby and Kilmarnock and Cumnock rugby clubs.
Grange Academy and Cumnock Academy embraced the ethos of the initiative providing young people with the opportunity to take part in an enhanced curriculum which included rugby sessions.
The results were very positive with young people showing improved attendance at school, improved fitness levels, increased participation in rugby at all age levels and importantly a marked increase in the number of young people making the transition from school to club rugby.
The success of the pilot saw the School of Rugby initiative being rolled out nationally and the number of schools in East Ayrshire increasing to four with Auchinleck and Loudoun Academies getting on board.
The four schools of rugby now have over 200 pupils, boys and girls, participating in a minimum of three periods of rugby each week in all age groups. The teams have been successfully competing in schools conferences and competitive matches against other Schools of Rugby.
Teachers from each school have been supported by coaches from Kilmarnock and Cumnock rugby clubs and two modern apprentices who were appointed to support training sessions and provide continuity for young people progressing from school to club rugby.
Within primary schools, every P5 to P7 pupil has the opportunity to participate in a four-week block of rugby training sessions and to hone the skills they have learned at one of four touch rugby festivals held locally.
In 2015 almost 10,000 pupils participated in the primary programme and this figure is continuing to grow. This year the initiative will develop further with a new contact programme for P6 and P7 pupils which will help to prepare them for the School of Rugby at secondary school.
This extensive primary programme is also strengthening the school to club pathway with mini and micro sessions growing at an incredible rate. Both Kilmarnock and Cumnock have identified that young people are the future of the club and are focused on growing the micro, mini and midi sections.
In Cumnock, there are over 200 young people playing club rugby and many have participated in the School of Rugby initiative. Cumnock was recognised as the ScottishPower Community Club of the Year award at Glasgow Warriors’ annual awards presentation last year. They won the award for their continued work in youth development within their community, supporting the Glasgow Warriors at events throughout the season as well as at matches, where they have played pre-match at both mini and youth levels.
Both clubs are supported by an army of volunteers and Glasgow Warriors, Scotland and Olympic star Mark Bennett still lends a hand at training sessions for young players at Cumnock.
Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of East Ayrshire Council said: “I recognise the value that the School of Rugby initiative brings to East Ayrshire and committed additional funding to expand our schools from two to four.
“The initiative has made our young people healthier and helped to improve their performance in school. It has also helped to engage hard to reach young people both in terms of behaviour and attendance. Being involved with the School of Rugby has helped them to participate in a positive environment and has improved their future outcomes.
“Mark Bennett is a great role model for local young people. He is very active in Cumnock supporting training sessions; he talks to secondary pupils about the importance of healthy eating and sport and attends our annual sports award ceremony for local talented athletes. I believe that through Mark’s incredible achievements and the hard work of everyone involved with the Schools of Rugby we will see more local players playing at the very highest level.”
Glen Tippett, Scottish Rugby’s Schools & Youth Manager for the area, said: “We know that Schools of Rugby make a real difference to the lives of young people and to the communities in which they are based.
“During our visit to Grange Academy in Kilmarnock we learned there is a waiting list among first year pupils to be involved in School of Rugby.
“We saw more than 30 happy and active first year pupils, boys and girls, proud of their school, their community and themselves, having taken part in a pre-school breakfast club and gym session and then taken part in an after-school rugby session as well.
“Schools of Rugby are a great initiative and we look forward to continuing to work in partnership with East Ayrshire Council and local rugby clubs to see more children become part of the rugby family.”