Are you ready for sports day?


When preparing for sports day, there are eight key aspects that schools must consider. Marianne Pope explains

Whether it is a low-key affair with traditional events, a mini-Olympics, or a tug of war and egg-and-spoon-filled occasion, sports day can be a fantastic opportunity to build school morale and camaraderie between pupils, staff and parents.

However, in the face of the ever-unpredictable British summer time and with a number of health and safety implications to consider, organising a sports day can also bring a host of challenges.

Over the years, researchers at The Key have answered an array of questions from school leaders on the details of school sport, ranging from first aid provision to disclaimer forms.

With all this in mind, here are answers to eight common questions to help you prepare for your sports day this summer.

 Q1: Can boys and girls play contact sports together?

There is no legislation that says schools must prevent boys and girls from playing mixed-gender contact sports, but if you are worried about allowing this you could carry out a risk assessment.

Conversely, guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) explains that equality legislation permits single-sex sports in certain circumstances. 

For instance, for games or activities of a competitive nature, single-sex sports may be appropriate if “the physical strength, stamina or physique of the average woman (or girl) would put her at a disadvantage in competition with the average man (or boy)”. This judgement must always take into account the particular group in question, so having separate sports for younger age groups may be less justifiable. 

It is also important to remember that if you provide a particular sporting opportunity for boys, for example, you would have to provide a comparable opportunity for girls too.

Q2: Too hot for sport?

As we all know, British weather means that in any planning we have to expect the unexpected. On the slim chance that your sports day coincides with a heatwave, will it be safe for pupils to compete?

There are not any national guidelines for schools on maximum or minimum temperatures for holding sporting activities outdoors. However, it is recommended that you carry out a risk-assessment and put in place control measures to ensure pupils’ safety. For hot conditions, measures might include:

  • Providing shade and water.

  • Making sure pupils put sun protection cream on.

  • Ensuring pupils wear appropriate clothing (hats and sunglasses, but also tops that cover their shoulders, for example).

Q3: Are parents and school staff allowed to take photos?

Parents: the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says that parents and grandparents may photograph or video school events like sports day if the images are captured for personal or recreational purposes. However, individual schools may still have their own policies restricting photography and/or video recordings for other reasons – such as child protection or to prevent disturbance.

Schools: the ICO also explains that photos taken for “official school use” are subject to the Data Protection Act 1998. In these cases, it will usually be enough if the photographer asks for permission to take photographs. That said, schools must consider how they will protect at-risk pupils and ensure appropriate policies are in place.

Q4: Tug of war – are there health and safety guidelines?

It is commonly advised to take a sensible approach to events like tug of war as there are no associated health and safety laws in place. If you are thinking of incorporating a tug of war into your sports day, you might like to consider some of the following safety tips from the Tug of War Association:

  • Make sure teams are evenly matched in number and strength.

  • Check that the rope is suitable for use. Play on an even field and remove any stones/objects.

  • Don’t set male and female teams against each other, though teams can be mixed.

  • Don’t tie knots or loops in the rope, and make sure the rope doesn’t get wrapped around limbs.

Q5: Parent races – should parents sign disclaimers?

Some schools ask parents to sign health and safety disclaimers before participating in sports day races, or make announcements before races saying that parents take part at their own risk. However, it is worth noting that disclaimers do not always guarantee freedom from liability. If you are particularly concerned about liability, it would be advisable to consult your school’s legal or insurance providers.

Q6: Can we insist that pupils remove their jewellery?

Yes, you can. When we contacted the DfE about this, a representative told us that schools may insist on pupils removing jewellery for PE lessons and school sports (or taping over it for safety reasons), but should outline their rules on this in a written policy. A pupil who refuses to follow the school’s policy, may be prevented from participating on health and safety grounds.

Q7: Must we provide first aid cover?

First aid provision must be available at all times while people are on school premises, although there is no requirement to have a trained first-aider on site. The most recent DfE guidance on this says that the minimum first aid provision that schools must make available is:

  • A suitably stocked first aid container.

  • A designated person to take charge of first aid arrangements.

  • Information for staff on first aid arrangements.

The designated person does not have to be a first-aider, but the onus is on the school to determine the appropriate level of first aid provision required, based on a risk-assessment.

Q8: Our sports day is taking place during Ramadan – what should we consider?

This year Ramadan begins on June 18. If you are planning to hold your sports day in the 30 days after this date, it is important to note that the main risk to pupils who are fasting is dehydration. Fasting children may be feeling tired and be more at risk of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). The Muslim Council of Britain suggests that the best mitigation is for these pupils to avoid activities that require physical exertion. You might consider scheduling your school sports day so it falls before Ramadan. At the very least, avoid delay at the end of the day, as children will need to be at home straight after school to break their fast.

  • Marianne Pope is a researcher at The Key, which provides impartial leadership and management support to schools in England and Wales. Visit



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