Dissection of a school visit – (2) The execution

In my last post about my recent school visit I explained what I learnt to make it more effective. It’s easily been one of the best things I’ve done for my own professional development. Having a focus on what I want to improve, seeing another school doing it, speaking to people about it and watching it in practice was very informative and motivating. For it to be really effective I need review it, and potentially change our practice.

The school I visited had the same issues we do with competitive sport about a decade ago. Since then they have currently 62% of 1200 pupils represent their school in a sport. They have had National success in a number of sports and have been responsible for producing internationals. You can tell sport and academics go hand in hand within the school, from listening to the children talk, the teachers interact with each other in the staff room and what the parents have to say. There is a key message that they all buy into – success in academics and success in competitive sport can be achieved without focusing on one or the other. In fact its what they want children to aspire to.

The school is an all boys school with 1200 on roll. It is bigger than my school and as a state school performs far more highly than my school does in sport. Their academic results are excellent, but not as good as my schools. I have asked the school if I could blog about them, but they asked me not to mention them by name. This is a case study of how the school provides excellent opportunities for competitive sport. (This is your chance to click on something else if you aren’t interested in sport).

Here were they 10 Questions I sent them in advance:

1. Where does competitive sport sit in the vision of the schools educational philosophy

Success in academics and success in sport go hand in hand. You do not have to choose one or the other. Challenging children on the sports field to become better has benefits in the classroom and vice-versa. It allows them the opportunity to see where their limits are, what they can achieve with dedication, commitment and handwork. Those values are key to success whatever enterprise and sometimes it is easier to teach them through sport than in the classroom.

2. Who drives that ethos within your school

Everybody drives the ethos within the school, but it starts with the Head. If the Head doesn’t see value in competitive sport then having a few motivated staff will be useful, but doesn’t infuse the whole school. If the whole SLT are on board, this filters down to the teachers and then onto the parents and the pupils. It is compulsory but it is expected. That expectation rises expectation the following year and that builds culture. Success also builds culture and having 4 or 5 years of national sporting success shows to students what they can aspire to, that it is achievable. It becomes a watershed that a state school can compete, can win and can produce internationals of the future. We celebrate that success both of current pupils, and of previous whenever we can.

3. How do you run sport in your school.

3/4 of the lessons are PE lessons that follow the national curriculum. The rest are whole year games lessons. Within games students are allowed to choose what they want to do on a certain rotation. However we also offer the chance to train and compete for teams. In the first time this is rugby, the second term this is Rugby 7’s and Hockey and in the 3rd term this is cricket and athletics. These aren’t really lessons but coaching sessions, taken by teachers. This is something we have discussed doing in our school, as managing to do practices after school means you usually won’t have your whole team together. If you commit to that you also commitment to a 2 after school training sessions a week one of which is a team run through. On top of this teams are also run for rowing, cross-country, badminton, squash and fencing. Football is only offered as a recreational activity for 6th Form. The feeling behind this is that football provision in the area is over catered by clubs.

4. How do you get staff involved

The recruitment and retention of staff is paramount for sporting success within the school. Candidates are selected on being the best classroom practitioners, whether they would fit the school culture and finally what they can offer as extra-currcicular. This is the same as my school, but once in place this is never picked up. In this school most staff will be timetabled for a games lesson and be expected to run one of the team practices on offer to the year group. There is then the expectation to run that team on Saturdays. I asked them how they would handle it if someone ‘kicked up a fuss’ with regards to this and the response was ‘they don’t’. Speaking to the Head it is very clear that being able to run a sport team and ‘go the extra mile’ with that team is a requirement of the offer of a job. They run 20 Rugby teams a weekend and 19 of which are run by staff outside of the PE Department. This level of commitment is staggering.

5. Do staff get anything for their commitment to competitive sport

Yes. Staff can get up to £500 extra for running a team, with up to a maximum of £900 extra if they run more than one team. School kit is supplied for free and that would take in training kit, coaching kit and smart dress to wear to away matches. If children are expected to travel in school uniform, then staff need to match that. This has been a major bone of contention within my school. It was always expected that staff should give up time to run a team for their own professional development. I think that thought is outdated and doesn’t take into the pressures and time commitments that my colleagues outside of the PE Department have. Renumeration, either financially, or my preferred method, with time has to be the way forward not only to get them involved but to keep them involved.

6. Do you find that there is conflict between PE and sport?

None. PE is about preparing students to stay healthy and active for life, which is very similar to the curriculum we are building in my school. there is a wide range of activities on offer in the PE curriculum some team based but many not. I spoke to students from Year 7 to 10 and they all seemed very positive about the experience in PE and they saw it as something very different than Games.

7. Do you find that there is conflict between sport and academic subjects?

Sometimes. They try very hard not to encroach on academic time, by mainly playing on Saturdays. However there are occasions when teams are successful in national competitions. This is managed by extra sessions to catch up with work missed. Withdrawal from sport is never used as an academic sanction, but will be used as a behavioural sanction. Academic subjects are not allowed to use games or training sessions to provide extra either. For example if Year 10 rugby training is on Tuesday after school, then it is made clear that this is not a time to plan for anything for Year 10s. This is something that is not done in my school and can be very frustrating when trying to build a team.

8. How do you engage and involve parents?

The importance of sport is stressed very clearly to parents before they join then school by the Senior Management and that is continually reminded. There are parental team reps for all sports that take the responsibility of the administration of competitive sport. Teams are picked 72 hours in advance of all fixtures and emailed to the team rep. That parental team rep then contacts all the students and their families to know they have been selected, what the arrangements are and whether they are available. Currently this is something that I do as part of my role and this is very time consuming. obviously running something as big as this also requires money being a state school. Some of the sports run end of season dinners with auctions. This year £25k was raised at just the rugby dinner. Some sports are run as clubs with joining fees and subs. We have neither of these funding models within our school, we just collect voluntary contributions from parents. (My whole PE budget, rugby, football, lacrosse and football budget is run for less than £25k). I asked them how did they get that level of support from parents, but they were unable to give me a detailed response. I think it just has always been there.

9. How do you celebrate sport at your school?

I didn’t really need to be told this. Pictures are everywhere. Newspaper articles presented in wooden frames are everywhere. Trophy cabinets are dotted all over the school. The idea of the student athlete is one that is in your face wherever you go in the school. I had lunch with the SLT and all of them were talking sport and the upcoming fixtures that there school was playing. They even had Wednesday afternoon for 20 minutes blocked out on their schedules each week to ensure all of them would get out to support their school. The Head comes to every home fixture on a Saturday. Their website praises it all the time. They have a sport dedicated twitter feed that has over 2000 followers. They send out weekly emails reminding parents of it. Pictures of famous ex-pupils who have gained international honours line the main corridor in the sports hall, along with pictures of the latest tour. Regular sports tour are key to raising the profile of sport within the school. Junior rugby to Wales, Junior Cricket to Ireland and regular senior tours in rugby, hockey and cricket to either Europe or further afield. They also use schoolssports.com which looks very good. I spent 45 minutes looking at the administration of the system, and it seems user friendly and promotes the school very well with regards to sport.

10. How are you supported by non-teaching staff

Very well it seems. They have two full-time ground staff, a full time PE technician, 4 Gap students (young men who come over from New Zealand and help run sports teams in return for food, accommodation and some payment) and a full time sports administrator. The sports administrator books transport, arranges the fixtures, organises catering, updates the twitter feed, school website and the schoolsports.com, which is currently what I do.

 

The next step in this process is to review this information I have gathered, and make recommendations that would further sport in the contact of my school.

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8 thoughts on “Dissection of a school visit – (2) The execution

    1. My current understanding of primary school is one that staff there are currently more overworked than any educational sector. It would be a wonderful aim for all primary school teachers to run a sports team, but probably in the current climate of workload an unrealstic and unreasonable request? My personal feeling would be for HQ PE in every primary school delivered by a specialist PE teacher, with the opportunitiy to represent the school in sports. Perhaps you are better placed to point of the errors in my thinking?

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      1. I do agree from the overworked perspective, it was the financial incentive that really spiked my interest. Im currently in my second year as PE subject leader and really starting to feel the pinch in terms of organising my class work around after school clubs – acknowledgement financially might make the blow a bit easier! I’m very lucky in that working alongside me, I have two highly trained coaches empolyed by the school (who teach like teachers) and they run a lot of the after school clubs. We are starting to develop more of our competitive fixtures but we struggle from a parental support perspective – they often cant take them to fixtures/are occasionally unwilling to pick them up late.
        This blog definitely gave me some food for thought! Ill be keeping an eye out for the next one you post.

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      2. Im currently putting my proposal togther to the Head and SLT. It does point towards some form of renumeration for teachers to run teams. I think the days of ‘good will’ and ‘professional development’ for running teams are far behind us. Asking staff to go the extra mile when they already run a marthon daily is not going to work. If competitive sport is important to your schools educational philosophy and supports its aims, them i think paying staff is going to be a likely step. Im not sure my recommendations will be well recieved, which obviously means that competitive sport isnt as important as they make it out.

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      3. I certainly agree with that, people are very good at paying lip service to how important competitive sport is, but when it comes to actually financing kit, travel, someone to take charge, taking children out of lessons etc, it all of a sudden becomes very quiet! I look forward to seeing how it turns out for you.

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  1. Really interesting read again. One of the aspects that lured me in – the whole school ethos. Until you get support from upstairs, creating that lasting vibe across all areas will be hard. Delighted to hear that there are schools who are promoting sport to this degree.

    One question – how receptive were the other school to your visit? The stumbling block I may have would be the kind of “spying” issue – why would a rival independent school let me come and take some of their ideas to make my independent school better? While we are yet to breach the question of a visit, I would imagine this may be a point of note.

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    1. In answer to your question all three schools I have visited have been hugely welcoming, receptive and willing to share their ideas with me. I think this has been some of the best PD I have had in years and has given me plenty of things to think about and bring up with my department. The only downside is trying not to be envious of what they have got and I haven’t, but to work hard on closing the gap and increasing opportunities and participation.

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