The Welsh Rugby Union has made an offer to all secondary schools in Wales to part fund a full-time School Rugby Officer dedicated to the provision of rugby to boys and girls of all ages and abilities within the school.
In addition, the WRU will facilitate the schools' competition structure, with the introduction of Regional Schools Leagues to underpin the hugely successful and high profile WRU Under 18 Wednesday League. The Union will also provide supporting resource, deliver consistent Continued Professional Development and offer coach development advice to the appointed Schools Rugby Officers.
Since making the provisional offer last week, the WRU has received positive feedback from many schools and over 40 schools have already made an expression of interest in taking up the offer.
WRU Head of Rugby Josh Lewsey said: "The aim of the WRU School Partnership Initiative is to have a profound effect on Welsh society through the medium of its national sport. The values that are intrinsic to rugby, such as teamwork, respect and discipline help to support the development of 'good citizens' as well as supporting young people in achieving within a school environment.
"Evidence clearly demonstrates that delivering effective rugby programmes with dedicated staff can make a real difference to pupils' academic success as well as developing good and healthy citizens. This initiative also simultaneously delivers the WRU's aims with regards to both Elite and Community Rugby."
In addition to delivering rugby options throughout the school, the Rugby Officer will also be tasked with the transfer, communication and interface with local clubs. The WRU will oversee and reinforce this process, as it is vitally important to maintain the good habits fostered in a disciplined environment and also retain participants in the game for the long term benefit of our communities.
There are many examples where our existing schools programmes have been directly attributed with the "cultural and academic turnaround" of a school's performance. At Newport High School, where the school part funded the employment of Dai Flanagan as its Rugby Programme Coordinator, the consequences have been astounding.
Nathan Williams, Deputy Head at the school said, "The pupils on the rugby programme have become role models for all the other children. A few years ago, we struggled to get teams together in some year groups but some evenings now we have several hundred pupils taking part in various sports after school.
"From an academic point of view, we know that a third of our senior team players wouldn't have continued in education without the rugby programme we offer. Now, they will go on to have a career as they have had a good educational grounding along with specialist support for their rugby development."
Cowbridge Comprehensive School head teacher Debra Thomas, who has Matt Silva WRU development officer on secondment as their Rugby Coordinator said: "The initiative has been a resounding success for us and the appointment of a dedicated rugby coordinator has been key to that success. The 'academy' brings a sense of excitement to the school and adds a positive dimension to sport and fitness across the school."
Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera appointed a Director of Rugby last September as part of their WRU School of Rugby status, and the school has already reaped the benefit.
Head Teacher Matthew Evans said: "As a school we have seen the real value of this rugby pilot in developing the self-confidence of boys and girls in rugby, but it also contributes towards their confidence within the whole school community as they contribute to extra-curricular activity.
"It has helped develop skills in the Welsh language and enhanced pupils' progress in their academic and vocational courses. Simply and succinctly, developing an individual's skills in one area can have a transformational impact on that pupil's attitude towards their school, their education and their personal development."
The WRU funding and appointment of individuals will be subject to schools agreeing to and meeting a set of strict criteria and targets relating to areas such as participation levels; performance and development standards; facilities, and the liaison with local clubs.
Nearly 40 players were involved in the first Wales Under 18 training session of the season. WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts is excited at the potential shown by the group and expects the Regional Under 18 Championship to hone their skills even further.