Despite the rhetoric surrounding the Olympic legacy and various campaigns to support good quality sport provision in school, the last few years have been particularly difficult for those responsible for delivering PE.
The abolition of the School Sport Partnerships (SSPs), growing financial constraints and increasing demands from Ofsted focused on the core subjects, have all unfortunately led to the sidelining of PE and sport in many schools.
As a former PE teacher and manager of the SSP in Barnsley, I know that effective PE needs a level of expertise, training and specialism that goes far beyond that which is given as part of standard teacher training. Yet teachers tasked with delivering sport in school often have to try to manage with a combination of knowledge picked up during initial teacher training and their personal experiences of PE during their own school days.
SSPs recognised the need for specialists in PE and effectively pooled the expertise in local authorities to deliver high quality sporting activity across schools.
When the scheme was abolished, I decided to continue developing the model on a not-for-profit basis, setting up the social enterprise Team Activ. We now work with all the secondary schools in Barnsley and over half the primaries, supporting them in delivering a range of sports, inter-school competitions and high level training for staff.
In September and October alone we delivered cross-country events for around 2,500 children from 35 schools in Barnsley. Pupils have enjoyed the opportunity to take part in PE in some of the most stunning locations in our area, giving them renewed interest in sport. Our model enables schools to offer their pupils the very best in PE without any extra workload for staff.
Schools involved in our programmes report more motivated pupils, higher self-esteem and better behaviour within class. Teachers report that their pupils are more aware of their responsibilities to themselves and others, and that they have increased enthusiasm for PE, and wider involvement in school activities.
While we work across the whole Barnsley region with its wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, we are acutely aware of the role sport can play in less advantaged communities. These are the very communities where many students qualify for Pupil Premium payments.
However, in September, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw expressed concern about the impact the Pupil Premium is really having on the hardest to reach young people. While ever-tightening school budgets make it easy to understand how the Pupil Premium can be swallowed up in general school running costs, the funding can have huge impact if spent carefully.
Team Activ, and other organisations borne out of the dissolution of SSPs, offer a really well targeted and effective way of spending the Pupil Premium on those very children it is designed for.
We have seen the evidence first hand and know the impact well delivered sports provision can have. For those pupils who struggle in an academic setting, sport can offer a reason to engage at school and see value in education.
Earlier this year, a report from the Education Endowment Foundation put the cost of sports participation at £200 per pupil, per year. Further Department for Culture Media and Sport evidence suggests sporting activity can increase attendance and retention and that extra-curricular intervention offers academic benefits.
I would however take issue with the estimated cost of £200 per pupil. Team Activ delivers successful sports intervention for just £10 per pupil, per year meaning there is plenty of spare credit left for other activities which include and involve the whole school.
I should point out that at Team Activ we raise additional funds through running paid-for sports events for businesses and the wider community, which enables us to subsidise our work with schools. Even without any subsidy, £200 seems wide of the mark.
But what can you do if you do not have an experienced educational sports provider on your doorstep? There are still some easy ways to get the most out of the Pupil Premium through sport.
First of all, one of the most common issues teachers ask us about is accessing funds for pupils who want to participate in sport but do not have the cash to buy equipment, pay for sports club memberships or pay for transport to competitions and events.
There used to be a range of grants available but sadly these have all but disappeared. Why not set up a sports grant system using the Pupil Premium which is targeted at disadvantaged pupils in your own school?
No child should be unable to get involved in sport because they cannot afford a pair of spikes or club fees. It is also a clear signal to those pupils who benefit that their school believes in them and values them.
Second, think creatively when it comes to sport and physical education. Athletics, football or rugby do not appeal to everyone so widen the net and consider alternatives. Would spending some money on coaches to lead lunchtime street dance sessions or an after-school dodgeball tournament capture hard-to-reach pupils’ imaginations and give them something to be enthusiastic about at school?
Finally, for pupils who struggle in school, a change of location can have a huge impact. It can take away some of the negativity surrounding the school environment and lead to improved behaviour and interest. We run events in a variety of places, from local stately homes to professional athletics tracks. Money spent on transport and supervision to get kids off the school site can work wonders.
I believe passionately in the power of sport to improve academic and behavioural standards. We would like to see our model rolled out throughout the UK to ensure all school children enjoy the high quality PE experienced by pupils in Barnsley.
The biggest accolade we receive is when a headteacher or a teacher tells us we are delivering real impact for their pupils. When a teacher notices a child’s attention has improved, their self-confidence has rocketed or their approach to learning is buoyed, it means we are achieving our goals and demonstrating that sport really does have a vital role to play in education and development.
I hope this article has inspired you to think about how sport is delivered in your school and whether there is scope for improvement. If you would like to learn more about Team Activ’s work, do get in touch.
We love to share our knowledge and experience with others who value the impact sport can have.
Former PE teacher Darren Padgett is founder of Team Activ in Barnsley. He recently won the title of Unsung Hero at the Aviva/Telegraph School Sport Matters Awards.
CAPTION: Life after SSPs: Team Activ runs a range of non-profit sporting events for primary and secondary schools across Barnsley