THE number of primary school children from low income families who take part in extra-curricular sports has rocketed.

Last October, East Lothian Council’s successful Active Schools programme introduced free access for youngsters who qualify for free school meals.

Since offering free participation, the number of youngsters from lower income families taking part in the sporty activities has seen a huge increase, particular across primary schools.

The number of primary school youngsters involved has doubled in some areas, with almost half of pupils in one primary schools’ cluster area signing up.

The free activities programme was introduced after it was recommended as part of the East Lothian Poverty Commission Report in 2017.

A report on the impact of the initiative found that more than 22 per cent of primary school pupils registered for free school meals joined in the activities compared to just 14.4 per cent when they had to pay.

In the Musselburgh schools’ cluster, where only 5.5 per cent of children had previously taken part, it had almost trebled to 14.2 per cent.

And in the Dunbar primary cluster it went from 21 per cent to 44.8 per cent.

The report said the initiative’s biggest impact was on primary-aged children because these schools had to rely on paid coaches to provide the activities.

In the secondary schools where the initiative was also rolled out, the number of young people on free school meals who took part went up across the county by just under two per cent.

Significant increases were seen, however, at Dunbar Grammar School, where those signing up went from 14.1 per cent to 25.4 per cent, and at Musselburgh Grammar School, where it went from 16.1 per cent to 26.2 per cent.

The report said that the free activities policy had been extended to looked-after children too.

It added: “The free access policy is one of a number of methods used to engage with low income families.

“An increasing number of referrals are being received from colleagues to help remove the stigma and barriers associated with poverty.

“Active Schools will continue to provide the appropriate interventions and opportunities for children in receipt of free school meals to ensure the service plays its part in contributing to the East Lothian Poverty Commission report and in tackling inequalities.”

Active Schools is a joint initiative between East Lothian Council and Sport Scotland.

Its main aim is to offer school-aged children the motivation and opportunities to adopt active, healthy lifestyles throughout their school years.

Parents who are able to pay for term-time blocks of after-school activities ranging from football and rugby to street dance and rock climbing do so.