Director of Sport & Physical Activity at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Will Parker, tells us why sport is so much more than just keeping fit, and the responsibility that teachers face to get it right.
“We all know that regular physical activity has a range of benefits, not limited to physical health. The benefits to mental wellbeing are numerous and well documented, and there is also growing evidence suggesting that physical activity improves academic performance, such as in lessons and exams. There is even indication that aerobic fitness positively impacts the structure and function of the pre-adolescent brain.
Despite this knowledge, it is simplistic for schools merely to put on more sport, expecting young people to turn up and the myriad benefits to be realised. It is also often not practical to accommodate a very broad and diverse programme of sport in the busy life of a school and its pupils.
“It is of the utmost importance to engage young people in the design and planning of school sport”
When reviewing the sports and activities available in schools, we should talk to pupils to understand their perspective. This is nothing new and, while it has taken many forms over the years, the importance of listening to ‘pupil voice’ is now widely accepted. Granted, when seeking the pupils’ perspective we should keep in mind that their knowledge may be limited and, at times, they may make slightly outlandish requests! However, it is of the utmost importance to engage young people in the design and planning of school sport and physical activity, not forgetting their feedback after participating, if we want our future programmes to be engaging and successful.
Young people want different things from sport and physical activity, and Sport England’s insight pack on Youth Personalities provides excellent food for thought on this. While the content is based on 14-25 year olds, it does provide a powerful reminder of young peoples’ lives and their expectations.
At Cheltenham Ladies’ College we work hard to balance sport and physical activity with the many other competing priorities that pupils have. We take this view across the breadth of activities on offer; from high performance sport or fun dance sessions, to challenging PE lessons, traditional school clubs, or independent time in the gym. As a school, we are lucky to have exceptional facilities, engaged pupils and experienced staff. The ‘growth mindset‘ remains a constant challenge though, requiring staff to be ever aware of the quality of their teaching and strive to be better every single day.
For us, and schools across the UK, measuring and articulating impact is a crucial factor in deciding whether to continue with new programmes. While we are fortunate to have a leadership team that has bought in to the benefit of school sport and physical activity, it is still important to demonstrate the value of what we do for our pupils.
Schools will choose to measure their success differently, but at College we are working on a ‘balanced scorecard’ covering our four key focus areas of; PE, participation, talent, and partnerships. Along with a small number of discrete measures in each area, feedback from pupils and participation patterns will play a significant role in analysing our success.
Continuing to measure this impact is crucial in helping schools to improve the programmes of sport they offer and enabling them to provide new activities in the future. We cannot rely on the already converted, or use subjective and anecdotal examples of impact. We need to be able to learn from the initiatives that do not work and build on those that do, if we are to promote and celebrate the importance of sport in a well-rounded education.”
With so much shaping our children’s education, read about why creative arts are also so important here