This post is slightly off topic, but I am bursting with pride in the staff and pupils at the school which I lead and would like to share why.
First of all, a little biographical background for those who have not read my early posts. I went to school in the sixties and seventies. Sport was very traditional and, as I could not run or catch, I did not do well. In fact I am your typical ‘person to be picked last for the team’ type. Not that I was inactive. I attended ballet classes until I was 11, getting distinction in exams and I enjoyed non-competitive swimming and hill walking with my family. However, my confidence was so low that I gave up participating in any type of sport when I left school at 16. By the time I was 35 I was heavily overweight and had very high blood pressure. The story around why I changed has been covered in past posts and will be very familiar to may of the personal trainers who read my blog. What I will say is that several thoughtful and inspirational aerobics leaders and kettlebell trainers have really helped rebuild my confidence along the way. The fitness industry can play a huge role in doing the same for others, I am sure lack of confidence contributes to our obesity crisis.
Back to school. When I became Head Teacher a few years ago the school had a very traditional approach to physical education. Football and netball were high profile and selection for teams was very competitive. I had regular complaints about children being excluded from playing on teams, but worse than this was the atmosphere on the playground. Every playtime and lunchtime I had a queue of pupils who had been fighting or arguing over football and those pupils who were in teams were quick to put down pupils who were not. Yes we won cups and medals, however one fellow Head Teacher took me to one side and explained that we had a bad reputation for aggressive play.
This was not the type of school I wanted to lead. I wanted to encourage children to enjoy sport and being active so they became healthy adults. However, when I started to talk about change I faced stiff opposition from staff and parents. I remember the fierce argument in one senior leadership meeting when I suggested opening up selection of teams. I got very strange looks when I invited some boxfit coaches to run an after school club, but the children enjoyed it.
When the PE coordinator retired, I had the opportunity for real change. With the help of like minded staff we changed the selection criteria for our sports teams. The first criteria was simply that you turned up for practice sessions at lunchtime (that way children who struggled to attend after school clubs could take part) and the second was that children showed sportsman/woman like behaviour on and off the pitch. This last criteria had a real impact on playground behaviour, if children were either physically or verbally aggressive on the playground they were banned from playing in the next football fixture. In assembly we celebrated great sports behaviour so everyone knew our expectations. I now see very few pupils who have been fighting and arguing over football, in fact the number of serious incidents has dropped dramatically.
Our teams include boys, girls, a child with cerebral palsy and children from a wide range of social and cultural groups. Children have stopped in the middle of matches to help a player from another team who has been injured. Positive comments have been made about the behaviour of our pupils when they have attended sports events with other schools. Our reputation is changing. Everyone predicted we would lose and lose. But we haven’t! This year our Year 5 team won the league, our girls team came joint first in their league and our Year 6 came second, medals, trophies and smiles all round. Inclusion works.
Our government has recently pledged large sums of money for school sport, which means we can hire our own sports specialist coach. I’m going to use this to introduce new sports and fitness activities into school, with the aim of encouraging every child to find something they enjoy and will continue to enjoy as they become adults. I’m not sure they are ready for kettlebells yet, although I have taken my kettlebells into school and shown them how I use them. But I am thinking about introducing a mini Parkrun and I am reallyexcited about the future.