COUNCIL chiefs in the Capital are under pressure to stop charging for after-school sports after it emerged they are provided free in Glasgow and several other parts of Scotland.
Edinburgh says more than 15,000 city pupils take part in sessions under the Scotland-wide Active Schools programme.
But last month, think-tank Reform Scotland revealed most local authorities charged for the sports, even though the policy guidance from SportScotland, which oversees the scheme, said they should be free.
Glasgow, Falkirk and Inverclyde are among the councils which made no charge. Several others offered most sports free. But Reform Scotland said charges in Edinburgh ranged from £5 to £45 per term, among the highest charges in the country.
Education Secretary John Swinney agreed to look into the matter after it was raised in the Scottish Parliament by Lothian Tory MSP Jeremy Balfour.
He said: “Given that the activities are co-ordinated through a Scotland-wide organisation, it seems strange there is a difference in charging practice. Sport and activity helps every child develop and the concern is we end up with a postcode lottery and pupils from poorer backgrounds miss out.”
Dr Andrew Murray, a GP and consultant in exercise and sport at Edinburgh University, said after-school activities were important for pupils’ health.
He said: “Being active and staying active is one of the best presents we can give our children. As a GP and a father, anything that helps kids get more active more often is a really good thing. If it’s only there for people with money, that’s not what we’re aiming to do.
“Anything that can be done to combat inequality in access to sport and exercise is a good thing – though I do recognise it can be difficult because the money needs to come from somewhere.”
The city council said schools in poorer communities or “positive action areas” charged between 50p and £1 per session for all sports, including swimming, basketball, dance and football, and other schools charged up to a maximum of £2.50 for the same activities,. Specialist activities such as fencing and judo cost £3.50.
It said if it did not charge it would cost the council around £500,000 to provide the service.
City education leader Cammy Day said: “We have one of the most popular and successful Active Schools programme in Scotland with over 15,000 pupils taking part in 500,000 participant sessions, which is testament to the outstanding effort of our co-ordinators.
“The programme offers over 1000 extra-curricular clubs offering 55 different physical and sporting activities ranging from basketball and dance to yoga to parkour. For the vast majority of these activities the charge is £2 or less and income generated pays for fully qualified professional coaches who are assisted by over 600 volunteers.
“We realise the financial constraints to some families for after school activities which is why we have lower charges for schools in positive action areas.”