Partnerships forged between Active Schools South Lanarkshire and local colleges and universities have created a new pathway for young coaches in the area. With retention of students at an all-time high and a 65% increase in the total number of students deployed, the programme has been celebrated by all involved.
Student pathway programme
Working together with students from the University of the West of Scotland, South College Lanarkshire and New College Lanarkshire, the Active Schools and Development Services team (including sports development officers, community sports hub officers and health development officers) within South Lanarkshire Leisure & Culture (SLLC) have engineered an expansive programme which aims to give students strong work experience to coincide with their academic studies.
Gerry Campbell, general manager of SLLC, spoke about the importance of mixed opportunities for students.
He said: “Within the programme, the students get the opportunity to work with our own staff and partners to provide opportunities and experience in physical activity and sport which connects to health and wellbeing.”
The programme is now split across multiple years of the students' education with bespoke modules being put in place in each institution.
1st Year Programme
The first year of the programme offers students an insight into school and community sport in South Lanarkshire through attending a range of events and facilities. It gives the opportunity for students to work directly with 2nd and 3rd year peers in an assisting capacity while coaching and at events as well as with local Active Schools Co-ordinators to gain first-hand experience of coaching.
Last year the team had 65 students supporting 37 events between January and April across the local authority with each student committing to at least four different events. Feedback from students notes the opportunity to explore the various programmes on offer prepared them well for their practical coaching placement in 2nd Year.
2nd Year Programme
The second-year programme begins with a six-week high-intensity training programme which is delivered by Active Schools coordinators and partners from local sports clubs.
Following completion of training students are deployed across primary and secondary schools to develop their coaching experience, with mentoring provided by an officer from the Development Services team.
3rd Year Programme
The third-year programme offers students significant independence and the opportunity to manage their own workloads. It was important to all partners that employability skills formed a greater part of the third-year programme to ready students for the workplace.
Students are given the opportunity to apply and interview for roles within projects created by the Development Services team and the local authority. This gives students the experience of a real interview situation while also selecting a project experience which best suits their career aspirations.
Karen Gregor of New College Lanarkshire spoke about how the programme creates well-rounded graduates for the college.
She said: “The partnership with Active Schools helps our students progress their coaching ability. They are fully trained by Active Schools co-ordinators at the outset and given valuable resources which helps them to plan their sessions for their designated placements.
"From the experiences, student volunteers become better students with improved organisation skills, timekeeping skills, communication and planning skills.”
Keeping the connection
There was a recognition within SLLC that there was a missed opportunity when it came to Active Schools volunteers who were moving on from secondary education. It was a workforce of engaged students who ran the risk of being lost in the transition into further or higher education. There was an active plan put in place to harness that workforce.
Karen McInally, Active Schools manager, said: “Our formal partnerships with our local colleges and universities have been critical in the development of our student volunteering programme.
"Our joint commitment to provide an environment where the students can achieve formal qualifications, develop their skills and gain real-life experience in the sport sector has resulted in an increase in participation across our schools programme, a true example of building capacity in our communities.
"We are also delighted to see so many students who were previously pupils of our high-school programmes gaining employment with our organisation as sports coaches and Active Schools coordinators.”
Paul Graham, senior Active Schools coordinator for the area, said: "Following the Commonwealth Games we made a conscious decision to change our approach as we felt we could be doing more to support students by giving them opportunities to develop their employability skills.
"We knew the success of this would all hinge on having a strong partnership with the further-education establishments and building a programme where everyone would benefit: Active Schools, further-education establishments and of course, the students. I see this model being a way of working that can hopefully be adopted across Scotland."
Laura Graham, lecturer for the University of the West of Scotland, was not shy in describing the impact the partnership has had on the students;
She said: “The partnership has had a tremendous impact on our student experience. For us it's invaluable.
"Students need the degrees and academic ground – but they also need the practical experience and the contacts. That’s what is going to get you out there and get you a job and it’s great to see our students doing that from their first year.
“Employability is a crucial element of university degrees and, thanks to our strong partnership with South Lanarkshire, our students are deeply engaged with sport delivery in real settings throughout their degrees.”
The impact has also transferred into student enthusiasm, with a significant increase in student volunteer hours. Since 2015, the total number of student coaching hours has increased 174% from 1,800 to 4,937 and the total number of student event volunteer hours has increased 120% from 589 to 1,295.