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22 December 2016, 06:14
A think-tank has claimed some councils are charging for an after-school programme which the national organising body has said should have "no cost to parents''.
Reform Scotland said the Active Schools scheme should be free to disadvantaged pupils and called on the Scottish Government to use funding aimed at closing the gap in achievement between poorer children and their richer peers to make up the cost.
The Active Schools programme of after-school activities is carried out in partnership between Scotland's local authorities and the country's national sports agency sportscotland.
Reform Scotland's research paper, After school activities: Another opportunity gap, found some local authorities such as Angus, East Ayrshire, Falkirk and Glasgow do not charge for the scheme while others have a fee of up to £48 per activity per term.
The report states sportscotland told Reform Scotland it funds local authorities to provide Active Schools and its policy guidance is activities should have "no cost to parents''.
Reform Scotland advisory board member Keir Bloomer said: "Evidence suggests that attendance in after-school activities is associated with positive academic and social outcomes for disadvantaged children in particular.
"As a result, Reform Scotland believes that the Scottish Government should consider using some of the budget it has created for closing the attainment gap to ensure disadvantaged pupils have access to free after-school activities. The Active Schools programme offers an easy way of delivering this policy.
"While it is up to local authorities and their leisure trusts to decide and justify their own charging schemes for Active Schools, we hope that they will explain their decision to parents. Even with a nominal fee of £1-2 per week, this can be prohibitive to a struggling family with a couple of children wanting to participate in a couple of activities.
"Ideally, we would want all children to be given an equal opportunity, but as a first step we are calling for all children in receipt of free school meals to also be in receipt of free Active Schools programmes instead of being subject to a postcode lottery as they are at present.''
A sportscotland spokesman said: "Sportscotland invests £12.5 million each year into the Active Schools programme and works in partnership with local authorities, who augment this investment with additional, local funding.
"Active schools activities should be free to all children and young people locally. Whilst this approach is our guidance, some schools extend and widen their after school activity provision, which can require a charge. This is a decision for local partners and schools, but it is an issue which we will be discussing with them in the near future.''
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Active Schools programme is funded through sportscotland, who have said they will be exploring this issue with local authorities as provision should be free to all children and young people.
"We're investing £750 million into the Attainment Scotland Fund to ensure children who are experiencing socio-economic disadvantage are supported wherever they live.
"Local authorities and schools are best-placed to know their children and make decisions on the best way to support them.
"This means that, under the programme as a whole, a huge range of activity both in and out of the classroom is funded, for example Dundee City Council funded school holiday provision from the fund.''