An innovative Abertay University education programme that has used Lionel Messi’s wages, the Tour de France and the Six Nations as hooks to engage children in Tayside and Fife has reached an incredible 40,000 participants.
Since 2013, the University’s Dundee Academy of Sport has enjoyed sustained success in running a wide range of projects at schools, colleges, summer camps and community groups.
Many of the targeted classes are delivered at schools in SIMD 20 areas, which have large pockets of deprivation.
This week, Florian Szarlej, 8, from Dundee became the 40,000th participant in the programme at a typically creative session at Our Lady’s Primary in the Hilltown area.
Abertay teaching fellows Amy Macleod, 25 and Rhona Martin, 27, led a class that saw the P4 group don helmets and take to rowing machines as they learned about both the history and physiology of the Vikings.
Dundee Academy of Sport Project Officer Alan Clark, 42, said using sport as a vehicle for education had proved a powerful tactic in trying to harness the imagination and attention of children.
'The kids we are delivering to come from the SIMD 20 areas and in Dundee that tends to include the majority of the schools.
'It is about finding unique and creative ways to engage them – if we are doing numeracy we might focus on Transfer Deadline Day or how much Lionel Messi gets paid in a week.
'We provide that extra bit of razzmatazz and inspiration and that is then backed up by the teachers who play an integral role in the sessions and are able to follow up with lessons after we have gone.
'Our work has been well received from pupils and teachers alike, with high levels of engagement and excellent feedback from class teachers.
'If they are enjoying what they are doing then they engage – it can be like sneaking education in by the back door.'
The project is delivered in partnership with Dundee and Angus College and has been jointly funded by the Scottish Funding Council and Abertay in a bid to support tackling the various attainment challenges that face schools across the area.
Avenues to continue the project beyond the summer of 2017 are currently being explored.
Teacher feedback shows a satisfaction rate of more than 90% for the sessions.
Our Lady’s teacher Sean Moran said the visits from Dundee Academy of Sport were invaluable to his class.
A lot of the children are really into sport and watch it a lot on TV so it’s a great way to get them engaged.
Many of them won’t get to experience this kind of activity outside of school so it’s a great opportunity for them.
They are definitely more engaged and ask a lot more questions afterwards so it’s great to see them taking it all on board.'
Florian said, 'I like it when the sports guys come to our school – it’s more fun than normal class. I like Parkour, basketball and gymnastics and maybe one day I will teach sports like them.'