John Deadman is director of sport at Dr Challoner’s Grammar School in Amersham
I visit many independent schools each year for fixtures and competitions and often think to myself ‘wow - if only the talented individuals and teams at my school had these facilities to play and train.’
In the aftermath of Rio, and Team GB’s most successful Olympic Games in history, the discussion continues regarding the proportion of competitors and medal winners from both independent and state schools in the UK.
Two-thirds of this year’s British medallists were educated at state comprehensive or grammar schools, a line-up that included Mo Farah, Adam Peaty, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Nicola Adams, Laura Kenny and Max Whitlock.
However, if you look at it from the opposite angle then a third of Britain’s Rio medallists went to private schools.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The success of Team GB in Rio has been a national triumph. It’s been fantastic to see a growing number of our national heroes coming from comprehensive and other state schools. But alumni of private schools are still over-represented among our medalists.”
Team GB’s top Olympians are four times more likely to have been privately educated than the population as a whole.
And while there is no question that, although some state schools have improved support for competitive sport over recent years, the opportunities afforded to independent school pupils on the sports field are much greater.
Simply put, there are more facilities, more qualified coaches and most importantly more time set aside for competitive sport.
My two daughters attended independent school until the age of eleven and just the fact that they had PE lessons every day of the week made a huge difference. Although the school was very small in size, they were able to experience lots of gymnastics, swimming and dance coaching, as well as being introduced to competitive team games through netball at an early age.
Sports scholarships are becoming more commonplace now between state and independent schools. The opportunity to move to a school with better facilities, access to coaching and medical support as well as continuing a rigorous academic schedule is understandably very appealing, not just to students, but their parents too.
A handful of medallists including Tom Daley and Helen Glover attended state comprehensives before being awarded sports scholarships at independent schools. There is no question that the move to Plymouth College (Daley) and Millfield (Glover) respectively increased their potential to succeed at the highest level.
So what are state schools doing to address this? I strongly believe that PE teachers are as passionate about sport as ever and are the perfect role models to pupils with a sporting talent. Just watch any interview with successful Olympic athletes and they will always acknowledge their school and the inspirational PE teacher.
So long as the Government continues to back sport in state schools by increasing numbers of primary trained PE specialists and increasing financial support to ensure facilities and PE / sports staff are plentiful that is. We don’t want to hear of schools being forced into selling off playing fields in order to stay afloat financially.
I do believe that the overall structure of local sports clubs today is much stronger and conducive to coaching large numbers of talented youngsters to a high level. National Lottery funding has improved facilities and national governing bodies have increased the number of coaches and officials. My girls have benefited from fantastic local gymnastics and hockey clubs. But within our local area there are also thriving athletics, swimming and rugby clubs.
Team GB’s motto to inspire a generation has also helped to bring the Olympic dream closer to all schoolchildren. TV and media coverage of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is exceptional. There are role models in all walks of life who are helping to inspire youngsters everywhere.
Female role models such as Nicola Adams, Kate Richardson-Walsh and Laura Kenny are a significant factor in the huge rise in number of girls participating in sport which is brilliant to see.
Personally I think we should pay less attention to the state v independent Olympians discussion. We need both to maximise the potential of Team GB at future Olympic Games.
Put simply - with more numbers of actively participating youngsters in sport and as long as the talent identification structures are effective - we can ensure the continual flow of Olympic medallists from all educational backgrounds for years to come?
The diverse cultural experience, being independent and bonding with friends and teachers away from home, developing technical and tactical skills on the sports field against foreign opposition - just some of the benefits to pupils of running a sports tour at your school.
They are also a strong way to consolidate learning, help to develop self-esteem, resilience, respect and self-confidence.
Sports tours for many pupils will be the highlight of their school lives, an experience to remember forever. The social and emotional benefits are significant and I guess the concept of such tours has really taken off over the course of the last 15-20 years?
There’s plenty of healthy competition out there now - lots of well-established companies and emerging businesses run by sports coaches and ex-PE teachers with experience. One quick search on the internet revealed more than 20 different companies offering sports tours to schools.
There are also dozens of new and exciting destinations around the world to explore on a sports tour.
Gone are the days of a weekend away at Butlins playing in a mini netball or football tournament. Apart from the UK and Europe, schools go as far afield as Australia, USA, Japan and South America.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced sports tours to the UK & Ireland, Holland, Spain, Portugal, USA, the Caribbean and most recently South Africa - involving a wide variety of sports such as football, tennis, golf, hockey, netball and rugby. So which factors contribute towards a successful sports tour?
Support from your tour company (before, during and after) is very important. Experienced operators will help you sort out paperwork well in advance of the trip -and which could include complex visa applications.
They should also provide representatives abroad who know the area and can help deal with issues as they happen (such as lost passports or serious injuries or accidents).
A good balance of matches is crucial. After all, this is the main purpose of your trip. Having travelled all that distance, a one-sided result (win or lose) is disappointing.
Tour companies work hard to get this right and the more experienced they are the more likely it is that the opposition teams are suitably matched. An appropriate mix of play vs rest is also important.
You want pupils to enjoy the trip and not suffer burn out. But at the same time everyone needs equal pitch time (because they’ve paid a lot of money to be there and have the right to play) so you have to prioritise this over results.
Choose somewhere that combines convenient travel time with experience of the sports you want to play. It’s not ‘where do I fancy going on holiday’ for staff. It’s where the pupils will benefit most from a cultural experience and range of excursion opportunities.
My top tips would be:
●Have an idea of where you want to go - UK, Europe, long haul. Decide your priorities - destination, length of trip, quality of fixtures. First time trips and schools new to sports tours should start small and build up (in terms of length of trip and cost).
●Shop around by using different tour companies for different types of tour. But if you do have a good experience then developing a rapport with one particular company can be beneficial long term.
●Ask other local schools or teachers who have run similar trips.
●Listen to advice from sports tour companies but don’t be bullied. Sometimes they are trying to fill hotels which may be cheap and sub-standard. If you think you know what you want then stick to your guns. Any reputable tour company will listen and try to accommodate your wishes.
●Pay careful attention to costs and value for money but don’t compromise on quality of accommodation or travel options. Is it a relatively cheap place once you are there and is food included (eg Europe vs USA/South Africa vs Caribbean)? Billeting with foreign students often keeps the costs down and enhances the cultural experience for your pupils - but I would suggest only doing this in English-speaking destinations and just for a couple of nights at a time (so an equal mix with hotel accommodation).
●Surround yourself with an experienced and well balanced group of staff. The added responsibility of being in a foreign place with a group of pupils can be daunting.
Sports tours are hard work for teachers, especially those organising the trip and doing the months of groundwork in preparation.
I always say to parents that our sole purpose of the trip is to ensure the welfare of their sons and daughters and to bring them home safe and sound. Unfortunately some parents (and staff) often forget this. How many times have you been asked if it’s just a free holiday?
However, sports tours are an extremely worthwhile and valuable experience for young people -and for me a real highlight of the job.
Pupils remember these trips for the rest of their lives, more so than any other experience they have in their school careers. Good luck on your next adventure.
John Deadman is director of sport at Dr Challoner’s Grammar School in Amersham
So another school year has come and gone and I wonder if any of you were left thinking the same as me ‘Where did the summer term go?’
A busy end-of-term included the district athletics championships, our celebration of sport evening, sports day, induction day for new pupils and the sports staff dinner.
During this time there has been a hectic timetable of teaching, plenty of last minute and re-scheduled fixtures - and not too many warm sunny evenings on the playing fields to enjoy either.
Am I just getting older or do things seem to be getting more chaotic year on year during the summer term?
One thing is for sure - there is an imbalance in time set aside within the school sporting year between traditional winter and summer sports, certainly when the disruptions during the summer term (mentioned later) are added up. It’s bad enough in state schools. I’ve no idea how independent schools manage to fit everything in before the end of June.
The stereotypical summer term for a PE teacher usually involves topping up the suntan whilst umpiring cricket or rounders matches or raking sandpits at athletics meetings.
The jealousy of other subject teachers as they struggle to encourage pupils to work inside sweltering classrooms is all too apparent. Any excuse to venture outside is welcomed.
Science are playing with quadrats. Art are drawing trees. Drama are practising voice projection. All the teachers at my old school used to sit around the swimming pool sunbathing every lunchtime whilst the pupils tried to squint a view through the slatted fence. It seemed like a dream job to be a teacher back then.
The reality of the summer term for PE teachers now, however, is very different. Put simply, there is not enough time to do too many fixtures, whilst battling against the English weather.
Having witnessed national successes in athletics, cricket and tennis over the past few months, it seems a shame that we can’t always do these activities justice within schools. What would Jess Ennis, Andy Murray and Alastair Cook think if they were to take a look at the competitive programme for their respective sports?
It’s not just extra-curricular sport that is affected by the summer term. It’s the learning and teaching within lessons. Weather-hit lessons, pupils out on activity days, summer play rehearsals all have a knock-on effect and I don’t think we ever really do justice to the teaching of these sports. We end up just playing. Rarely does a day go by during the summer term where an otherwise-engaged member of the PE staff needs lesson covering for a whole host of reasons.
Examinations of course is the biggest disruption to PE and sport during the summer term. Apart from losing the use of your sports hall (and possibly gymnasium as well), there are no older pupils around to be able to fulfil any senior sports fixtures whatsoever.
With younger pupils sitting module exams, controlled assessments or just end-of-year exams, it becomes difficult to develop structure or maintain any kind of momentum to the summer sports season. Hopefully, linear A-levels and the move away from controlled assessments at GCSE might help with this one? Exam season appears to be never-ending.
Does anyone start their summer sports programme early? Is this even feasible within our climate? Probably not because we’re all too busy cramming in overdue football matches and netball tournaments which have been weather-affected earlier in the term?
At Dr Challoner’s, we put our KS3 pupils through a six-week indoor athletics’ scheme of work before Easter, focusing on the technical events such as high jump, throws, sprint starts and hurdles. This saves time at the start of summer.
We also hold some indoor cricket nets for a couple of weeks, but that’s about it. The reality is that summer sports happen after Easter and not before.
Is there a solution or an answer to these problems out there? Sadly, probably not. We’re dealing with variables beyond our control, although I’d love to hear of innovative and creative ideas that you are practising within schools.
Perhaps the formal exam season could be condensed to the month of May? During this time, younger pupils could do their activity trips, end-of-year tests and summer concerts, whilst teachers could undertake report writing; setting aside June and July for quality teaching time and loads of athletics, cricket, rounders and tennis fixtures.
In the meantime, I hope you all had a great summer holiday and are looking forward to my favourite half term of the year in September/October?
“Children are being hampered by teachers unwilling to run teams, sports taught at a ‘superficial level’ and limited facilities” Sir Michael Wilshaw (OFSTED Chief); ‘Going the extra mile: Excellence in competitive school sport’ (June 2014).
Playing inter-school fixtures is the sporting highlight for many boys and girls. I remember my first ever U12 football match for Hall Mead School, joining with five other teams as we played a block Saturday fixture against Abbs Cross School from Hornchurch in Essex.
Playing sport for your school team was always so special - wearing the school kit, playing with your mates in front of your PE teachers, being in school but not in a classroom - this was much more important than anything else.
Competitive sport in state schools has changed significantly during my twenty years of teaching, many of these changes reflecting the dynamic state of family life and the education system in general.
In response to Mr Wilshaw’s report in 2014, John Steele (Youth Sports Trust chief executive) said: “It is not teachers who are the barrier to a good sports education in schools, but a lack of support, resources, funding and facilities.”
I would tend to agree with Mr Steele, so let’s take some of these barriers and consider ways to overcome them because one thing PE teachers certainly aren’t is lazy or superficial.
When I was at school, there was no such thing as assessment in PE, let alone examination courses. PE teachers just taught games and PE and ran school sports teams. Nowadays, we are all under increased pressure for academic results, as well as time constraints having to attend staff meetings to go through policies and procedures. Just reading the ‘life in the week of…’ column in each SSM edition is tiring. It amazes me how these teachers find time for a social life let alone run school teams.
Solutions - support and value your PE staff by sharing around responsibilities in terms of who teaches exam PE classes, who attends meetings, who mentors trainees, and also who runs different sports amongst various year groups.
We don’t get paid for running extra-curricular sport so you must have dedicated, enthusiastic individuals on board who run teams because they enjoy it. Try to promote amongst other staff the social and emotional benefits of being part of the PE team and running sports fixtures.
We’d all love to have the facilities that some certain schools enjoy. But the key thing is to maximise usage of whatever you have which independent schools do extremely well.
Firstly, look at the facilities that you do have - do they match the activities you offer or could they be used more effectively? Persuade your school to invest in a long term and sustainable facility such as a sports hall or all-weather pitch. Sport England funding may be available and shared community use would also help.
Find a local school (probably an independent school) with more extensive facilities than yours to play against and take several teams over there at once. Create a link with a local athletics, hockey, cricket or rugby club whereby you could occasionally use their facilities to host matches. These clubs will often send coaches in to help run extra-curricular clubs.
Sourcing officials for matches (and being able to pay them) is an ever-increasing headache. Working adults have less free time nowadays and colleagues in school are too busy to come out and referee a game for you. There is nothing worse than trying to coach/manage a team in the wind and rain whilst also trying to officiate an important match.
Solutions can be to ask parents at the start of each year and create a directory of volunteers. This could also include offers of transport or refreshments for matches. You can also send sixth formers on courses so that they can at least officiate KS3 sports matches or find one or two reliable and semi-retired (nobody ever fully retires these days) people and look after them.
Transport to fixtures is a much-discussed and ongoing issue. Many heads of PE spend several nights per week driving colleagues to and from sports fixtures because they are the only D1 category minibus drivers.
However we have discovered a ‘loophole’ under HM Government/DfE guidelines to apply for a section 19 permit. This states that ‘the minibus must be 3.5 tonnes (or 4.25 tons if including any specialist equipment to carry disabled passengers).’ We have a new 17-seater ‘minibus lite’ on its way now which is lighter than any other minibus. However this is the loophole. As long as the wheelchair kit is kept on the minibus in its storage area at all times, anyone can drive it.
It’s not unusual for education to get bad press. Given some of Mr Wilshaw’s comments in his report, it is not surprising that PE teachers often feel over-worked and under-valued. Perhaps Ofsted should offer more helpful advice and lobby the Government to increase funding to state schools rather than just highlight the problems?
Competitive sport within schools fosters significant physical, emotional and social benefits to pupils and there is also a clear correlation to academic attainment. So please remember that it is amazing and incredible what you do for pupils (and their parents) by running extra-curricular clubs and sports fixtures in your school.
I have never really been exposed to the world of rugby.
Having chosen the local football school at the age of even instead of the other one which focused on rugby, I never got to play the sport.
Many schools are the same nowadays, preferring to focus on just one of these two major team sports for boys and girls and mixing it up with some hockey, netball and basketball.
When I started at Dr Challoner’s 13 years ago with Liam Doubler (current director of sport at RGS High Wycombe), we made a conscious effort to push competitive rugby alongside our football programme.
I think that, back then, I just wanted to offer as wide a variety of competitive opportunities as possible to our students. I even coached an U12 team for two seasons with my limited knowledge.
More recently however - and largely thanks to our fantastic journey in the NatWest Schools Cup which saw us triumph at Twickenham last month - my eyes have been well and truly opened to the culture of school rugby that I think puts to shame other sports such as my beloved football:
Several things have struck a chord with me that have been refreshing and got me thinking ‘why doesn't the same happen in football?’
Firstly, there’s the discipline, respect and sportsmanship involved. Success on the rugby field requires discipline as a team because you can't keep giving penalties away. But there are no grey areas in terms of refereeing decisions and the respect towards officials is taken for granted.
I also like the sportsmanship between players and coaches. It was nice to be standing pitch-side with staff from other schools and not feel intimidated or resentment towards them. There are handshakes, congratulations and tunnels of applause at the end of the game instead of complaints and arguments.
The hospitality we received on those long, wet and windy away days at Dauntseys, Clifton College and Manchester Grammar school was incredible.
Secondly, the organization of school rugby on a regional and national level is amazing. The ESRFU organize the U15 & U18 NatWest Cup competitions while School Sport Magazine runs an U13 competition with very little financial outlay to schools and with extremely efficient organizational skills.
There are no extra charges for reaching the final stages of these competitions and successful schools are extremely well looked after.
Thirdly, there’s the significance of teamwork. In a game such as rugby, where every position is equally important, there is no better example of the team being more important than the individual.
Success relies entirely on the forwards’ scrummaging, rucking and lineout skills as well as the backs’ handling and running skills and of course every player’s ability and desire to make tackles.
I have seen many a school basketball, hockey, cricket and football fixture where the result has been largely influenced by a dominant player or two.
Which brings me to the thorny issue of tackling although schoolboy rugby is so well coached from an extremely young age - and this includes tackling - that to take a significant part of the game away would be potentially more dangerous and cause more serious injuries when players reach the age of 18.
I would perhaps suggest a New Zealand system where young players are divided according to size and weight because I do see U13-U16 matches in particular where six foot tall, twelve-stone players are smashing into opponents literally half their size and completely dominating matches. Maybe the wearing of headguards should also become compulsory at junior level?
Anyway, for this football coach, it has been a refreshing change to be exposed to the culture of schools’ rugby over the past few months.
Wouldn’t it be nice if that structure and culture could be transferred to other sports one day.
The influence of a headteacher on sport and PE within a school can easily be taken for granted.
After all, he or she is the figurehead of the school and is always seen to be enthusiastic of everything that happens within.
But just as a successful Premier League football manager needs a supportive chairman, the significance of a headteacher’s impact on sport should not be underestimated.
Dr Mark Fenton came to Dr Challoner’s Grammar School in 2001. Realising the significance of sport to the learning of teenage boys, increasing the profile of sport was high on his list of priorities.
He had a vision for sport, and fortunately I was given the opportunity to drive this vision when I was appointed as the school’s first director of sport in 2003. I was full of energy and ideas and was lucky enough to be given the resources to develop a strategy for PE and sport at an exceptional school.
The sports facilities at Challoner’s fifteen years ago consisted of a 1960’s-style gymnasium, an old playground area and fields which were flooded for three months of every year.
Today we are blessed with two new sports halls (one with a climbing wall), a floodlit all-weather pitch, relaid sports fields with drainage, eight tennis courts (all weather and hard surfaces) and two fitness suites.
However, it is my job to make full use of these facilities by ensuring that pupils are offered recreational or competitive sporting opportunities during lunchtimes and after school every day. It saddens me occasionally when I visit schools at 4pm to see deserted sports halls and all-weather pitches.
I enjoy the trust and support of the headteacher. (He is the football club chairman who backs the manager without interfering in team selection). I have heard anecdotes from fellow PE teachers in the past who have been hauled in front of their headteacher to explain a defeat to a rival school because it doesn’t look good on their school.
Some heads can be forgiven for being obsessed with winning. But Mark shares our philosophy of fair play and sportsmanship, whilst still enjoying banter with the other local grammar school heads when we win or lose against them.
Mark is present at most sports fixtures, including Saturdays, not because he’s the headteacher, but because he’s a supporter. So if you’re following a ball-by-ball Twitter feed commentary on @challonerssport, then you know who is responsible.
Having recently volunteered to manage our 3rd XI football team at Harrow school, we were quickly informed that ‘you can write what I know about football onto the back of a postage stamp.’ It turned out that, after a defeat and a draw for our 1st and 2nd XIs that day, the 3rd XI’s 4-0 victory meant that they were our sole winners.
The uncertain financial educational climate that we live in today requires schools to be innovative and creative. PE teachers are full of ideas, so don’t be afraid of thinking outside the box.
A can do attitude is so much more appealing to a headteacher than a ‘why we can’t’ approach. I want people in my team who are reflective, think things through, work out how things CAN work, not individuals who are constantly making excuses or justifying why things CAN’T happen.
And can PE teachers make good headteachers themselves? Not just good in my opinion, but outstanding. It’s the unique blend of interpersonal and professional skills and qualities, the ability to approach all problems in a practical way plus the vision and drive to want to be a part of things and lead from the front.
Check out Jay Davenport (Rushden Academy), James Heale (Vyners School) and Darren Turner (Tudor Grange Academy) to name but a few (Exeter University class of ’96 - dynamic young headteachers making a positive impact).
Headteachers want their schools to be happy, healthy places which engage the learning of its pupils and increase attainment through exam grades. As well as physical development, sport is the one thing that is certain to increase the intellectual, emotional and social qualities with all children. Sport builds confidence and self-esteem amongst pupils, allowing the whole school to make progress.
The professional partnership developed over the past 13 years has helped to transform sport for the boys at Challoner’s to where it is today - and most importantly given us the confidence to strive for excellence and not become too self-congratulating or complacent. What was the Team GB motto at London 2012 - better never stops?
The sport and PE team wish Mark Fenton the best of luck as he leaves Dr Challoner’s later this year to take up his new post as chief Master of King Edward’s School, Birmingham.
One of the rewards of being a PE teacher is meeting those exceptionally talented sporting individuals and seeing them develop within our school.
Some of these pupils are simply brilliant all-rounders - naturally gifted in terms of skill and physical ability - and these would form the core of your sports teams whereas others may specialise at individual sports such as swimming, gymnastics or tennis.
Understanding the needs of these two very different types of sporting prodigies, and more significantly managing the expectations of parents, can present challenges of their own.
Where do we stand on the multi-sports versus single sport specialism debate when it comes to educating and supporting our talented pupils? And how important is it that we understand the role of parents to ensure the long term development and well-being of their child?
I recently read an interesting article by David Faulkner, director of sport at Millfield School, highlighting the benefits of multi-sport participation until late adolescence. This was in response to the parental question ‘at what age should my child specialise in a particular sport?’
Faulkner stated that sports such as rowing and rugby (due to their physical nature) are better to specialise in at a later age anyway. I would include cycling here as well. At Dr Challoner’s, we currently have several exceptionally talented pupils who have taken to these particular sports from the age of 15 upwards.
This may contradict the 10,000 hours of practice theories mentioned, amongst other people, by Matthew Syed in his book Bounce. Although I see this as more significant for individual sports, I would agree with David Faulkner, predominantly because it’s our job to develop well-rounded pupils not just physically, but academically, socially and emotionally as well.
However, from experience I do accept that the nature of team versus individual sports are poles apart in some respects.
One of the key differences between team sports such as netball, football, hockey and rugby and individual sports such as swimming, gymnastics and tennis is the success and enjoyment levels available in later life.
Firstly, the odds are firmly stacked against individuals simply due to the numbers involved. All-round team players often participate on a semi-professional level if they don’t quite make the grade, and continue to enjoy the physical, social and emotional benefits of playing team sport for many years.
One the other hand the competitive opportunities for the swimmers, gymnasts and tennis players are not necessarily available when they inevitably fail to make the professional grade?
Is recreational participation at the local tennis club or swimming pool going to be a good enough substitute for their competitive instincts? Well in my 20 years of teaching I have seen many talented individual-sport athletes fall by the wayside after the age of 16, often having given up their particular sport completely and perhaps having missed out on the social and emotional benefits of a multi-sports participation at school during their adolescent years?
On the other hand, probably the most talented pupil I’ve taught was Tom Fouhy. From an early age, he was in the Buckinghamshire county set up in four sports, cricket, cross country, football and rugby.
Had there been county teams in basketball and hockey at that age group he would undoubtedly have made those too. More importantly he had the mental attributes to go with his undoubted physical ability. Tom chose football, represented England Schools’ U18 in 2013 and is currently studying at a top college in West Virginia on a full scholarship.
On the subject of scholarships, which many independent schools offer, is this the best of both worlds, particularly for the individual sports’ pupils? If the schools themselves are taking care of the coaching, as well as the academic and pastoral needs of the child, then maybe this would remove some of the time and emotional pressures from parents? But scholarships is another topic.
I do think the pressures on individual sports players (and their parents) are more complex - not just time and financial strains, but the weight of expectation and consequences of failure.
We have two daughters. One is an excellent games player, loves her team sport; plays netball at school as well as football and hockey at local clubs. The other is an exceptional gymnast with eight-ten hours a week training plus the odd weekend competition.
Both involve very different commitments but both girls are fit and healthy and enjoy all the physical, social and emotional benefits associated with playing sport - and as parents we support them equally.
Realistically they are not going to be winning Olympic medals, but ultimately as parents you want your child to be happy at school and be adequately prepared for life once they reach the age of 18.
And so I guess our role as teachers is to develop happy and healthy young adults, and that means giving them the best all-round sporting experience possible.
After all, if you happen to teach the next David Beckham or Jessica Ennis, it’s your care, guidance, support and friendship that they’ll be grateful for above anything else in years to come.
As PE teachers, I guess that one thing we had in common while at school was our love of team sports.
It is a cliche that the team is greater than the sum of all its parts - but what is it that makes playing team sport such a unique learning experience for all?
A recent article by Lucy Pearson, headteacher at Cheadle Hulme School was entitled ‘Team sport is as important as any academic qualification’ and was written in the light of the England women’s football team’s heroic performance at the World Cup.
What interested me was the theme of managing yourself and others as part of a team and, more significantly learning from mistakes and coming back stronger.
Playing team sports isn’t just about physical development. The intellectual, emotional and social benefits associated with it are priceless.
England coach Mark Sampson used another cliche after our semi-final defeat to Japan: ‘We win as a team, we lose as a team.’ But sharing success (and failure) with team mates is a meaningful learning experience - one which all of our students need.
During the past several years at Dr Challoner’s, we have focused on the learning habits of our students; the nurturing of significant life skills such as teamwork, collaboration, communication, perseverance, humour, risk taking, adaptability and resilience (amongst others).
While this has been a whole school initiative, PE and especially team sport lends itself nicely to the development of many of these characteristics amongst our students.
You only need to read the autobiography of any famous sportsperson to fully appreciate the significance of such habits. David Beckham, Bradley Wiggins, Muhammed Ali, Jessica Ennis, Steve Redgrave - they all share tales of overcoming adversity and pay tribute to the team of people responsible for their success.
It is extremely positive that traditionally individual sports have become more team-based in recent times. Look, for example, at the effect that the Ryder Cup, Davis Cup and Tour de France has had on golf, tennis and cycling fans respectively.
It makes the general population affiliate more with these sports so that we can win/lose with them. The public are given vicarious experiences which may encourage them to want a piece of the action and thus buy into that particular activity.
So how can we provide the opportunity for all pupils to experience team sport and therefore develop these qualities and characteristics?
Most state schools are not blessed with endless facilities and members of staff willing to run team sports. Therefore, a creative and strategic approach to your whole school sport programme is crucial.
House competitions are popular in most schools, and are a good way of increasing participation levels. Even more so if you are able to include B competitions for popular sports such as netball or football.
I particularly like ‘low effort, high impact’ activities such as cross country and Dodgeball. These are easy to organise and encourage high participation rates. We can almost guarantee a 100% turnout for our year 7 House cross country event one lunchtime this September (including six form tutors).
And along the theme of turning individual sports into team sports, why not include multiple relay races as part of your sports days and swimming galas? Not only are relays more spectator-friendly, but participation numbers are quadrupled.
And the enthusiasm and team spirit generated among pupils in the B freestyle relay swim teams or the C 4 x 100m teams are well worth the effort of organising a few extra races.
The significant factor within all of this is that the staff as well as the pupils all buy into the importance of inter-house competition. It is used as a tool to build teamwork, self-esteem and a real sense of achievement. We learn to be competitive but respectful.
Look at it this way - many jobs and careers these days require you to be part of a team.
Which qualities are going to stand your students out from the crowd?
Gone are the days when GCSE’s, A levels or even degree classifications are deciding factors at job interviews, such is the competitiveness of the world we live in today.
Habits such as collaboration, perseverance, responsible risk taking, critical thinking and resilience, as well as qualities such as teamwork, trust and loyalty are going to be key. And all of these are nurtured when our students play a part in a sports team.
London 2012 was all about the incredible success of Team GB, whose motto was ‘better never stops.’ Playing team sport doesn’t just instil positive learning habits; it can enthuse and inspire our students towards ‘better’ in all aspects of their lives.
So another general election has come and gone. But, in terms of PE and sport in schools, has anything really affected our day-to-day jobs as PE teachers?
During an afternoon’s viewing of Sky Sports News before the election, I watched a synopsis of the main political parties’ manifestos for sport, which was very interesting.
The main thrust of the Conservative plans was to continue their £150m annual funding of primary school sport.
The Labour party focused on increasing the weekly two hours of compulsory PE and sport within schools to five hours by developing more after-school clubs.
And alongside similar ideas, the Liberal Democrats guaranteed a minimum five per cent of TV money going back into grassroots sport.
However, there was one common theme amongst the three political groups, which relates to our national game (football) and specifically the Premier League. Ideas range from giving fans a say in the governance of their sport, to the distribution and use of TV money.
The amount of money generated by the Premier League is obscene. However, just as criminal is the proportion of this money that is used to develop grass roots sport in this country – including school PE provision - because I believe this is actually what largely constitutes grass roots sport.
Having carried out a brief amount of research, I came up with the following eye-watering facts and figures, which certainly get the brain whirring into action as you start to think to yourself: ‘Wow just think what we could do with that sort of money in our school/local community to develop PE and sport.’
Manchester United’s current annual wage bill is £215.4m. That’s over £4m per week. And their top five players alone account for over 30% of this figure.
Compare this to European football giants Bayern Munich, wage bill approximately £130m per year. And their star players all get paid the same amount – between £120k and £130k per week.
The new Premier League TV deal (2016-19) is worth £5bn in UK rights alone, which will rise to £8.5bn when foreign companies are signed up. And so all Premier League football clubs are expected to pocket £100m per season – more than enough to fund the current annual wage bills of all but the top five clubs.
The Government have pledged to build new artificial sports pitches in 30 major cities across the UK, which sounds fantastic, until you consider the following.
In the UK, there are currently 639 3G all-weather surfaces, compared to over 5,000 in Germany. A new floodlit 3G pitch costs £600k to build – just two weeks’ wages for Wayne Rooney.
We could build 1,000 new floodlit 3G pitches in this country for (only) £600m – approximately 7% of the new TV contract money to the Premier League.
I don’t just think this money should be ploughed into football pitches. It’s grass roots sport that has been mentioned which means getting all of our pupils involved in physical activity.
What about a super-complex in each community, a sports facility which includes all-weather football and hockey surfaces, an athletics track, netball courts, a fitness trail and outdoor gym, plus indoor facilities and more? Go to Holland and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
We could build 40 of these complexes in the UK for the amount of money that Premier League clubs spent on agents’ fees alone during the last season (£115m by the way).
Anyway, diverting back to recent election fever and party propaganda; this got me thinking. What would a PE Teachers’ Manifesto for Sport look like?
1)PE teachers in every primary school. Despite the millions of pounds of ring-fenced money distributed to primary schools, only £360k was invested this year into training primary PE specialists. Sadly, there is little guidance for headteachers on how best to use their annual £9,000 to create a sustainable sporting culture within their school. I know one retired primary school head, who said that he employed five PE teachers at his school. In his words “PE teachers can do anything in your school whereas others just can’t teach PE.’
2)Lift restrictions on minibus drivers. All new PE teachers should be able to take a funded course which enables them to drive pupils to and from inter-school fixtures and competitions.
3)A statutory finish time for all state schools of 3pm on at least two days per week so that inter-school fixtures and competitions can be played.
This is an excerpt from the national careers service website (on PE teaching) – ‘PE teachers organise matches and practice sessions after school finishes, so you’ll be expected to work later several times a week and possibly on Saturday mornings. Outside your teaching hours, you’ll plan lessons, mark work, attend meetings and training, and take part in school activities.’
Investment to create a sustainable future of our school PE & sport programmes is critical. It requires strategy, stability and people.
We also need to protect the physical and mental well-being of PE teachers, allowing us the time to maintain the enthusiasm, energy and desire to do what we love doing most – increasing extra-curricular recreational and competitive activities for our pupils.
After all, we are the inspiration behind the multi-millionaire sportsmen and women of the future.
Is the Premier League competitive? Many would argue that it is not a level playing field when you have clubs funded by billionaire owners, who are able to buy the best players and have the biggest squads.
In many ways the season ahead is relatively predictable. Clubs and supporters have very different aspirations. Will it be Champions League qualification, mid-table mediocrity and a cup run or just survival from relegation?
Getting the programme of competitive sport right in your school is a tough job – particularly with the added time pressures that we face as PE teachers. This becomes an even more complex task once you throw into the equation managing pupil and parental expectations.
I am sure that competitive sport in schools was much more straightforward in my day because there weren’t any sports colleges, academies or scholarships. The best football, netball, cricket, basketball teams won their respective county competitions and went on to regional and national finals.
It was always an advantage being at a bigger size school and helped if you had a dedicated, enthusiastic super-coach of a PE teacher for netball, basketball, football or rugby. But generally I would say that we all played on a level field.
My school was a Havering borough comprehensive and, although we never stood much chance in the local football leagues, we often gave the independent schools a shock in the Essex Schools Cricket Cup.
Nowadays competitive sport (particularly at a higher level) is much more complex and to a large extent inequitable. There is a lot more at stake, particularly with current marketing pressures within schools. Scholarships are a way of enticing the best performers into schools to strengthen their teams, and are common in many independent schools.
I’ve heard a recent example of a star netball player not being allowed to compete for her school in the regional finals (which she helped her team qualify for) because this would contradict her strict regime of training and match play time. At another school, a gymnast not allowed to compete because the competition standard was too low.
Many of you will have boys and girls at Premier League academies who aren’t allowed to play football for their school, despite being only 13 or 14 years old. Imagine the social and emotional damage that this is doing, particularly three or four years later when they inevitably get cut from the system along with 98% of the others.
The RFU structure is a great example of fair competitive opportunities for all schools. Whilst their national competition (the NatWest Cup) is won each year by the best rugby schools, the Vase (plate) competition gives schools knocked out in rounds one and two the chance to progress to an equally-prestigious final at Twickenham (entry to this competition is free as well). Emerging schools’ tournaments are also held in lower year groups to encourage non-traditional rugby schools or small schools to play competitively against similar opposition.
The ESFA have separated their U18 football competitions to schools and colleges, as well as introducing A and B competitions, whilst the LTA have an U18 competition restricted to tennis players of a 7.1 rating and below.
However, these competitions are susceptible to ‘rule bending’ and rely heavily on the integrity of the schools involved. For example, what happens when your A team gets knocked out of the ESFA cup but your B team reaches the later stages of their competition? And the tennis rating system is based largely on number of tournaments played. Therefore it is possible to include highly-talented individuals with low ratings in your team.
But now we also have academies creeping into our system – officially ‘schools’, but who are attached to professional or specialist clubs. Is it fair for these institutions to draft the best players from all the other schools in the area and then compete against them in the same county competitions?
More often than not, these academy sports teams are run by specialist coaches and not PE teachers, which in turn brings its own problems.
Imagine if we could give English passports to Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Manuel Neuer, Thiago Silva and co. We might even win the World Cup. But haven’t we already tried this with athletics and tennis? If Greg Rusedski had won Wimbledon would it have felt quite the same as supporting Andy Murray?
The number of schools selecting pupils on sporting ability is on the rise so how do we measure the success of competitive sport at our school? Should we celebrate being runners-up to the local football academy school or second place in the county hockey tournament to the school that ‘poached’ our best player last year?
I think that we need to see separate competitions for specialist sporting schools sooner rather than later before the whole concept of competitive sport in schools collapses.
After all, what is there for pupils, parents and teachers to aspire to when realistically you are only battling for second place? Would you pay for a raffle ticket if you knew that the first prize had already been reserved?
Funding and PE provision within state primary schools is a burning current issue within education.
Having just completed a project for the Bucks Learning Trust investigating how the primary schools in our area are using their sport premium funding, my eyes have been opened to some of the diverse and creative ways in which individual schools and teachers are investing in PE and sport for their pupils.
More than this, I have seen examples of the good work being carried out by the existing secondary partnership schools who have managed to maintain funding for their school sports co-ordinators.
However, you don’t have to be part of a school sports partnership to get involved with your local primary schools. There are many reasons why developing mutually beneficial and partnerships within your local area is such a huge opportunity.
Running primary school sports festivals has been one of our most rewarding projects since we were ‘released’ from our local sports partnership. The removal of government funding meant that our SSCo position was no longer funded. However, it also meant that we were free to organise our own bespoke competitions with primary schools of our choice. We only work with schools who want to work with us and are therefore reliable and appreciative. There are no costs involved.
Recently we hosted a football festival on our all-weather pitch, inviting selected primary schools from within the local area with whom we had formed a good working relationship over previous years.
Five boys teams and five girls teams entered from a total of eight different schools (both state and independent), and we ran separate competitions. This way it is not just the boys who dominate. Girls much prefer healthy competition against their own.
The festival was fairly simple to organise - a few e-mails from a member of staff and the help of our sixth form sports leaders. This was a perfect example of a low effort high impact event.
And what a spectacle it was – 90 primary school boys and girls, dozens of parents, teachers, head teachers, four small sided matches going on simultaneously under floodlights, emphasis on healthy competition but mainly fun. No trophies at the end, just a few thank yous and a brief mention of the winning boys and girls teams. Completely organised and refereed by our sixth form leaders. Refreshments for the teachers and the opportunity for them to network and maybe set up future fixtures between schools. Everyone went home happy.
Another project that we have pioneered is to provide whole school sports festivals for two willing partner schools - Gerrard’s Cross Combined (state) and St Mary’s Girls Independent (also in Gerrard’s Cross).
This involved us taking our sports eaders, plus all equipment, to the host school for an afternoon. We ran multi skills for years 1 and 2 (bean bags, hoops etc), athletics for years 3 and 4 (foam javelins, agility ladders etc) and two new activities for years 5 and 6 – Ultimate Frisbee and basketball.
All pupils were involved during the afternoon (200 plus at Gerrard’s Cross, 130 plus at St Mary’s) and so were their teachers who just enjoyed watching, taking photos, and most importantly getting some ideas of their own. Our students absolutely loved running the afternoon. Many of them said that it was the single highlight of their nine-month CSLA course, and could they do it again?
Interestingly, primary schools are willing to spend upwards of £200 on ‘sports specific’ inset training which doesn’t necessarily increase teacher confidence to go back and implement these ideas effectively. Add to this another £200 required to cover that teacher whilst he/she is absent from school and that’s a pretty large chunk out of your sport premium funding.
Working independently with primary schools is a great way of enabling leadership opportunities, developing positive relationships and showing off your fantastic sports facilities, staff and students within the local area. You are also providing primary schools with much needed healthy and fun competition for their pupils, as well as free inset for their teachers. It ticks all the boxes.
Primary school liaison, sports festivals and leadership opportunities for students have been happening for many years – certainly before the time of school sport partnerships and CSLA courses. So whether you are at a primary, secondary, state or independent school, consider the potential benefits of developing links within your local community.
Parents – they are often the bane of our lives aren’t they? They interfere, complain, and are quick to pass judgement. Just ask the PE department at Dr Challoner’s High School where yours truly is probably their worst nightmare. Well, it’s always said that teachers make the worst parents.
For state schools in particular, embracing parents’ views and harnessing some positive energy may be the answer to some of your problems.
However difficult it may be, it is important to remember that parents like to feel included in their child’s development. They care about their son/daughter and therefore sport at your school. And when you care, you worry, you get upset, you complain – but ultimately you want to help.
Just over a year ago, I received a lengthy email from Jo Wright – parent of a boy in year 8 – detailing everything that was wrong with sport at our school. From team selection, to a lack of PE lessons and sports fixtures, to how other schools were doing things differently to us. It was fairly condemning of our philosophy and practice.
Several points were factually incorrect. However I quickly became aware that these inaccuracies were largely based on parental misconceptions. They had no idea about the hidden complexities of the jigsaw puzzle that is the PE and sport programme within our school.
Rather than taking offence and closing ranks, I invited Mrs Wright into school and spent a couple of hours going through every point on her email. Not making excuses, but trying to explain the practicalities and barriers involved when creating an inclusive mix of competitive and recreational sport within a school.
It was almost like that famous Brian Clough quote. When asked how he dealt with difficult footballers, he answered ‘It’s never a problem. I invite him in for a cup of tea. We chat through everything and then we decide that I was right all along.’
But seriously – the meeting was amicable and enlightening, and most importantly there were several ideas which interested me. It was obvious that this was somebody who I needed to get on board to help and so began a great partnership.
We analysed the results of a sports questionnaire from year 8 and 9 students and hosted an open parents forum (with attendance of more than 60). Here we explained how things run with regards to our extra-curricular sports programme and answered questions and complaints.
From this, we assembled a parents’ sport strategy committee with an immediate agenda of reviewing and improving communication strategies.
How much unnecessary time and energy do you spend dealing with queries and/or complaints by phone and email from parents? It’s not because they are stupid. It’s probably because the source and quality of information is poor. Managing parents’ expectations is a critical part of my role. We have improved the quality and consistency of communication to by rewriting various website and newsletter documents to make them more parent-friendly. The way in which we communicate sports information to students has also been improved.
Our parents’ sports strategy committee is a group of nine volunteers who come together termly, with myself and Jo chairing discussion meetings. Deliberately chosen from a range of backgrounds, skills and perceptions of school sport, they are incredibly enthusiastic, proactive, and above all have worked collaboratively to bring to life ideas that are going to have a real and significant impact on the sporting experience for all our students.
Some examples are sourcing of funding for external coaches to enhance (not replace) existing extra-curricular practises run by the PE staff, the introduction of new activities such as an MTB (mountain biking) club and plans are underway for our first celebration of sport evening next July.
Added to this, two members of the committee have each volunteered one morning a week to provide administration help for the PE team.
Subsequent sports forums have been well attended by parents of students in younger year groups, with members of our committee playing an active role. One thing is for sure, parents will often listen to other parents ahead of teachers.
So perhaps the over-riding message is we should demonstrate some humility and open-mindedness. Because just as parents can be an inconvenience they can, with careful management, prove to be an asset and one of your most powerful allies in the quest to improve the provision for sport at your school.
Does anyone remember watching The Grimleys on TV? Set in the 1970s, its central character was the stereotypical PE teacher Doug ‘Dynamo’ Digby (played by Brian Conley), while Amanda Holden and Noddy Holder also featured as fellow teachers.
‘Dynamo’ Digby typifies the old school practice amongst PE teachers, a group of oddly-dressed individuals who remained in their hovel of an office (usually a cupboard somewhere in the depths of the old school gym). They often cut a lonely figure, misguided, vain, arrogant, sadistic and intimidating to all around them.
The reality (in my opinion) is that PE teachers are the most energetic, versatile, charismatic, intellectual, sociable and therefore influential staff within any school. So how do you break the mould of the stereotypical PE department to become a positive force within the school?
The components of a PE team – and therefore the dynamics – are much more complex than any other department within a school.
Apart from the team leader (director of sport or head of PE) and second in department, you will invariably have other members of your team with other whole school responsibilities, such as heads of year (PE teachers make excellent pastoral leaders and so this is extremely common). These colleagues, along with any part-timers or non-specialists, need to be appropriately supported and integrated into the team to make use of their strengths.
Student teachers and PE technicians are as much a part of your team. They are no longer tea boys for staff respite by occupying the difficult year 11 class. The partnership between all staff members is reciprocal. They are learning professionalism, gaining experience and benefitting from your expertise while you are getting fresh ideas and free professional development.
Leading by example is perhaps the best approach rather than reinforcing a hierarchy that distinguishes between those who have served their time and those at the bottom of the ladder.
Most PE teams experience a change in personnel at the start of each academic year which provides an opportunity to re-evaluate your values and goals. Looking to the next academic year perhaps you should reflect on who we are; how do we conduct ourselves; what impression do we want to give; and how can we improve on last year?
Four key areas for your PE team to consider:
Identity - the image that your team presents. Does everyone wear the same school branded kit and dress appropriately for each activity? Do they present themselves well around school at all times? I hope the days of parading into staff meetings wearing tight fitting rugby shorts, sweaty vests and/or muddy socks are long gone. I once had a (non-PE) member of staff turn up in jeans, duffle coat and wellies to teach a winter football lesson.
Ethos/culture – consider promoting your school motto through all that you do. Embedding excellence with integrity through our PE team has enabled us to strengthen a culture of professionalism and respect.
Relationships - develop a team which enjoys a positive relationship and reputation amongst pupils, colleagues and parents, as well as the other schools within the local area. Become a pioneering team within your school (instead of one which reluctantly follows suit). Broaden your whole school profile to encourage others to want to be a part of it.
Maintaining high standards - work hard as a team to develop exceptional levels of professional conduct, attire, organisation, humility, sportsmanship and respect. Don’t become labelled as the school in the area that always cancels fixtures.
At Challoner’s, we enjoy competing against dozens of schools in many different sports, not just within district, but our regular block fixture opponents (including many independent schools) and also our experiences from national competitions. Opposing staff and pupils display many of the characteristics mentioned above – which always makes for an extremely enjoyable fixture experience.
Our Chiltern District Athletics Championships this year was fantastic – a real credit to the twelve schools that took part. All sets of pupils were well behaved, organised and respectful of each other. The staff were dressed smartly (no T-shirts and flip flops this year) and conducted themselves professionally throughout. All field events were managed fairly and correctly. The day ran smoothly, and the venue was left in a tidy state at the finish. This was a real team effort.
Whatever ethos you decide to adopt, make sure that the values of integrity, humility and professionalism underpin this. September and the new school year provides the perfect opportunity to remind and review with your department, ensuring that all staff involved with sport in your school share your vision. The PE team can then continue to play a significant role in a whole school culture for success.
“I am fit…you are weak and worthless” (Doug ‘Dynamo’ Digby, 1975).
PS: If you haven’t seen The Grimleys. Look it up on YouTube. It’s a must for all PE teachers.
I am sure we all remember the school residential visit that we were lucky enough to go on. Back in my day, such trips were few and far between (think I went on a couple of activity weeks and one ski trip), compared to the booming educational visits market of today.
One of the benefits and most rewarding aspects of our jobs as PE teachers is to lead or assist residential visits and sports tours. And while all of our non-teacher friends marvel sarcastically at the ‘easy life’ that we enjoy, we try in vain to justify that it’s not a holiday, its work, honestly.
But seriously, the opportunities and benefits that we give our pupils on such out of school activities are so important, and probably the most rewarding for all concerned.
Whilst writing this column, I am away on a residential week with 42 year 9 pupils at Calshot Activity Centre near Southampton. Every year at this time I am reminded of and inspired by the outstanding benefits afforded to our pupils when they take part in Outdoor & Adventurous Activities (O&AA).
With Michael Gove driving through his new national curriculum, designed to “allow our students to compete with the best world-wide”, he also talks about our children thriving on challenge and being taken “out of their comfort zone”.
However, his methods to achieve this are somewhat warped. It is not rigorous testing in a silent examination room that our younger children need. It’s more exposure to enriching and extra-curricular activities.
The physical, intellectual, emotional & social challenges which O&AA present cannot be emphasized enough in my opinion. And then there are the opportunities to develop teamwork, trust and problem solving skills, as well as reinforce values such as loyalty, fair play and respect.
O&AA is so different to the other areas of activity within the PE curriculum. Health & safety procedures aside, there are no rules and restrictions. It’s all about children finding out for themselves, having fun, running free.
The value of O&AA extends to all of us, regardless of age. It builds character, confidence and relationships in ways that would not happen on a family holiday.
As teachers, we see pupils in different light away from home/school life. Through the freedom and extended time spent away we can learn more about the quieter pupils. They often come out of their shell and start to show their personality, characteristics and qualities. We also learn more about the sporty pupils. Can they handle adversity or failure in unfamiliar situations? Do they demonstrate true humility, respect and teamwork?
At Dr Challoner’s, we are leagues ahead of Michael Gove, having recognised that academic qualifications alone are no longer sufficient for the extremely competitive global world of work.
The development of students’ learning habits and the significance of well-rounded characters have been identified as key priorities, and it is these habits which form the basis of all learning, both in and outside of the classroom.
This is why we feel that it is so important to have every pupil in Year 9 (if not before) experience a residential trip, and why we place such value on the range of enrichment activities on offer throughout the school.
Learning habits such as resilience, problem solving, collaboration, responsible risk taking, strategic planning, questioning, listening, empathy, independence and humour are fully embedded into our everyday teaching – but all of which you can guarantee will be hit during a single residential O&AA visit.
Residential trips can be seen as exclusive and expensive. But I would argue that a week’s O&AA visit is priceless for the development of a child’s social and emotional confidence.
As a parent, of course I want my children to succeed academically at school. However, we are also the first to hand in reply slips and deposit cheques for educational visits as soon as the letters come home, realising first-hand the fantastic lifelong benefits that such experiences will have on our daughters.
Even if a residential trip is out of the question, social and emotional confidence can still be developed in schools through O&AA. Any activity which takes them out of their normal PE environment. It doesn’t have to involve expensive equipment or a visit to the local countryside. Investing in equipment for a simple orienteering course or treasure hunt, problem solving exercises using old planks of wood and car tyres, or giant catapults and a stack of water balloons.
One absolute guarantee is that pupils will have lifelong memories of their activity week residential and perhaps learn new recreational activities to develop lifelong participation in sport.
But, most importantly, they will develop a higher level of social and emotional confidence that will stand them in good stead for their future lives.
Success and failure are a part of life. Or put into sporting terms, ‘You win some, you lose some’.
Some of the most rewarding aspects of our work as PE teachers are the opportunities we get to coach individuals and teams, taking them to school fixtures and tournaments.
What we say and how we conduct ourselves at sports events not only has an impact on the behaviour and performance of our players, but reflects the culture and reputation of your school.
Following the now infamous Alan Pardew ‘head-butt’ incident, it is re-assuring to know that we, as PE teachers, have the opportunity to educate individuals and teams about fair play and sportsmanship both on and off the field of play.
As role models on the sidelines, we should never underestimate the significant part we play in their social and moral development as sportsmen and women.
For the stereotypical ‘Sunday morning football coach’, it is often about their ‘winning record’ rather than the enjoyment of the girls and boys in their charge.
Given a position of power (and having played too much ‘FIFA’ on PlayStation), they become the Jose Mourinho of the local league and think they can magically transform a group of enthusiastic youngsters into world beaters.
Watching my daughter’s football team play is more often than not a frustrating experience, irrespective of the result. How do we expect a bunch of U13 footballers to respond to repetitively barked commands like ‘squeeze’, ‘control’ and ‘relax?’ These ‘coaching points’ would be less out of place on a maternity wing than a sports field.
I often listen in to the coaches’ post-match comments. Without exception, the winning manager’s comments are always positive, whilst the losing manager is negative and critical of his players’ performance.
Unfortunately, neither coach gives any kind of constructive feedback. After one match (a 4-0 victory), my daughter’s coach told them they were all “brilliant, superb” (he had spent most of the game shouting at them to “control” etc!).
The opposing manager’s post-match comments to his girls were “I don’t know why any of you bothered getting out of bed today?” followed by “that’s it, you’re all doing the ‘Bleep Test’ at training on Tuesday. You’re not fit enough.”
I am sure that we have all returned from matches, events and tournaments infuriated by the behaviour of opposing teams, staff and/or parents? Excessive and over-zealous comments to their players, criticising of match officials, a real ‘arrogance’ and lack of respect as they ‘over-celebrate’ yet another goal in their annihilation of the unfortunate opposition?
Whilst recognising that some losses are exceptionally hard to take, how we stand in defeat is what sets us apart as a ‘true’ professional.
Do we refrain from questioning officials in front of our pupils? Do we avoid comments like ‘be aggressive’ or ‘she’s not as good as you?’ Are we able to mediate and demonstrate resilience? And. when we are successful, do our teams show humility and respect towards the opposition?
Without preaching (because I’ve learned some hard lessons myself from experiences), I do amongst other things make sure that my players are reprimanded loudly and in full earshot of the referee and spectators if they dare to question a decision. The ‘team’ always comes first and all I insist on are the three E’s – enthusiasm, effort and enjoyment.
Those of you who teach the ‘attribution theory’ topic of sports psychology will know that the way in which we view success and failure is crucial to future performance. How we deal with pupils when they win or lose is critical. Do they understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the outcome?
As PE teachers, thankfully, we tend to be fairly philosophical when it comes to competitive matches and tournaments. Most of the time, we have a pretty good idea what the likely outcome is going to be so there’s no point beating yourself up after a bruising defeat.
I watched the moving but most encouraging Ian Wright documentary on ITV a few weeks back. He credited a kind and caring teacher at school for turning his sad life around. At the end of the day, it’s not all about us, it’s about the learning and development of the pupils that we influence.
Trust me, in years to come, nobody (except you) will remember your 72% win ratio with the U15 netball/cricket team back in 2011 – but they will remember you as the inspirational teacher that taught them how to learn from defeat and the importance of fair play and sportsmanship.
There is a fine balance in school sport between competition and inclusion - winning trophies versus mass participation so getting the right level of competition for your pupils through sport is one of the most difficult challenges that we are faced with.
I’ve witnessed first-hand a primary school ‘non-competitive’ sports day and it was embarrassing. The parents hated it and the pupils were totally uninspired. However, we have all experienced the opposite scenario, where a school sports event has been ruined by the sheer pressure and intensity of competition, leaving pupils upset and parents disappointed when their child doesn’t win.
So how can we develop inclusion, foster a culture of healthy competition and fair play, whilst also winning a few trophies along the way to help promote the good name of our school?
An extensive House sport programme is a great way of involving large numbers of boys and girls in a wide range of competitive sporting activities. We run inter-house cross country races during lunchtimes on the third week of September with nice weather, a not-too-taxing two kilometre course and bonus points if the whole form group (including their tutor) compete. Try holding B team competitions in certain popular sports like netball or football to cater for the ‘non-squad’ players.
And what about sports day, the showpiece event of the year for the PE department? Start off with B and C team relay races to warm up the crowd before the more talented athletes get their opportunity to compete.
We’ve also started a weekly dodgeball league during lunchtime, open only to pupils who don’t play in school teams. This has been incredibly popular, and better still, most of the ‘sporty’ pupils come and support their team. This creates a fantastic atmosphere and think of the affective benefits in terms of self-esteem on the participants.
The quality of the inter-school competitive programme is also crucial in developing our talented individuals and teams. We need to offer opportunities for our top performers, but every ‘elite’ player needs a strong team around them. What happens to the pupils who are just outside your top 7 netball players or top 11 cricketers?
It’s hard to empathise with these students as PE teachers, because we always played in every sports team when we were at school, never having to try hard or even turn up regularly to practices to get selected.
A recent cross country success for my school was largely due the performances of our third and fourth scoring runners, without whom our top two athletes would not have won a national title. A colleague once told me that he judges the potential of his hockey team not on the ability of his best one or two players, but the strength of his number 9, 10 and 11 players. It’s worth consideration when training your squads.
My philosophy has always been that the trophies will take care of themselves. If this happens then great, but our main focus is always on developing strength in depth, and this is where your fixtures programme needs to be spot on.
As a PE department, do we add fixtures to the calendar for the sake of it? It’s an easy box-ticking exercise to simply enter all the district league and cup competitions. Although this guarantees fixtures, they are often not pitched at the appropriate level. You know that your teams will lose to the large comprehensive school down the road, but this is offset by the ‘easy’ fixtures you’ll play against the small independent school across town. The focus is still on winning or losing, and the outcome is often predictable.
The key to developing a ‘bespoke’ fixtures programme to your school is to create a positive working relationship with other schools’ PE departments so build a rapport with your local competitors. At Challoner’s, we have spent several years developing a fantastic fixtures programme for our major team sports involving many state and independent schools from within a one hour travel radius. This has ensured an appropriate level and range of competitive opportunities for our pupils and makes for much more enjoyable fixture experiences for all concerned. It also enables us to reward those pupils who turn up to practices and show high levels of enthusiasm and commitment. Ability is irrelevant because A, B or even C string teams can be ‘played up or down’ to match your opposition. The main focus is no longer winning or losing.
Pupils perform better when the focus is on enjoyment and are not put under pressure. If the level of competition is right then they should enjoy the experience of a closely-fought match.
For many children and their parents, the biggest step in their educational lives occurs at age eleven when they leave the comfort of their relatively small, local primary school for the vast, unfamiliar surroundings of their new secondary school.
In terms of school sport, this transition is an extremely complex one, often make or break I feel. A negative experience of sport can put off pupils for life and yet sport can be the one area used to ease pupils’ anxieties and fears.
The shift from primary to secondary school brings together hundreds of eleven year olds from often dozens of feeder schools, each with their own structures, principles and agendas with regards to sport.
These range from independent prep schools - where PE and sport is offered on a daily basis, and where all pupils have already experienced team sports such as netball, rugby, hockey, lacrosse, cricket and tennis – to local village combined schools where the classroom teacher takes a couple of activity-based sessions per week, just enough to fulfil the national curriculum (and occasionally even falling short).
However, this is not a discussion on the quality of PE and sport provision in primary education – more a suggestive model of how best to integrate these fresh-faced, impressionable yet enthusiastic pupils into a sporting ethos that will ensure participation for life as well as the chance of competitive opportunities in their chosen sport/s.
Eight years ago at Dr Challoner’s, we set up our first year 6 summer sports camp. The idea was simple, that all year 6 pupils that were joining us in September were offered a one week sports camp at the school during the first week of the summer holidays.
The week was not free but payment was based on research done into childcare and similar holiday camp charges at the time.
Most members of my PE staff are happy to work an extra week and earn a bit of overtime and, on average, we’ve always had 65-85% of our new intake participating for at least part of the week. That’s 120+ pupils.
The emphasis is on fun as they spend the week having a go at all sorts of varied activities such as football, cricket, athletics, table tennis, climbing etc.
The social benefits are huge as they get to mix with their new PE teachers and peers and the parents get to know each other during the week as well. There are no medals or trophies to be won but every pupil manages to find at least one sport that they enjoy.
Without exception the feedback from hundreds of parents since 2005 has been 100% positive, the most common plus point being the integration into their child’s new environment with the view that they can’t wait to start in September.
In my opinion, it is crucial that all pupils are given the same opportunities and made to feel on a level playing field in their first few days, weeks and months of their sporting lives at secondary school.
We are in danger of losing too many potential sports team players and, more importantly, turning off those pupils for whom sport will be a vital social and emotional part of their lives.
Too much emphasis on selection and squads early on in year 7 can have far reaching and damaging effects to many pupils’ sporting aspirations.
Our philosophy has always been to get everyone involved as much as possible early on, never restricting opportunities to those who’ve played in their primary school teams, and certainly never rejecting an eleven year old sports enthusiast or give them the impression that they ‘can’t play just now but keep trying anyway.’
I feel that often we are too hasty in picking our best team as soon as possible. That major cull after the first school football or netball trials which leaves dozens of young hopefuls disillusioned and no longer interested in playing sport of any kind must be avoided at all costs.
Playing sport is a habit. It’s like learning to clean your teeth, ride a bike or speaking a foreign language. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes, and the harder that habit is to break. So leaving sporting opportunities open for new year 7 pupils for as long as possible is going to be crucial in developing these habits.
And if you’ve had pupils attend your sports camp in July then you’re probably more than half way there already.