Blog and Partnership Updates

Welcome to our blog and partnership updates page! Stay informed and connected on the latest School Sport & Activity Sector Partnership events and news.

Unlocking the Potential – a Call for Change in How We Communicate

Amanda Vernalls – Head of Research and Insight, Youth Sport Trust, 29 September 2023

Many years ago, in a previous role, I was asked to investigate why a new bike lock wasn’t selling (never let it be said that the world of a retail market researcher isn’t glamourous).

It was a great lock, developed to be the best on the market. The mechanism was unique, the key was bespoke, and the bar that wrapped around the wheel was unbreakable… and no one was buying it. Despite it being absolutely perfect as a piece of product design, it failed with its marketing and communication:  

  • It didn’t recognise the needs of the potential user. It was heavy but the kind of people who needed a great bike lock had light, sleek bikes, with nowhere to store a heavy lock and they didn’t want to carry the extra weight
  • It was over-complicated. It was difficult to explain and promote the benefits clearly and quickly, so it struggled alongside cheaper and simpler products
  • It was difficult to find. It was so big that there was only room for one to be displayed at a time. Once it was sold, a gap remained on the shelf until it was replenished the following morning (this was in the days before on-line shopping).

I was reminded of that lock yesterday at the latest 'PE and School Sport Research Event' this week. This is the second time Youth Sport Trust has coordinated such an event, which is designed to bring together researchers, practitioners, and policy makers to help build connections, increase collaboration, share insight, and amplify our collective output across the sector. In this session, delegates shared some of the latest research on the positive benefits of physical activity and we spent time discussing how we could better work together to bring about societal change, before joining the wider 'School Sports & Activity Sector Partnership Summit' to discuss how our collective evidence could help inform future policy.

We’ve got some powerful evidence. We are clear what the issues are and how PE, school sport, and physical activity can be used to address some of the issues facing children, from helping their physical, mental and social health, through to developing essential life skills. So, our discussions focused on why our messages aren’t being picked up by those can effect change.

There are many issues and barriers in implementing change, but I’d argue that how we 'market' and communicate our evidence might be a good place to start. Talking to policy makers at the event, I was struck by the lack of time they have to work through the myriad papers which are published every day. Many aren’t from a sports or educational background and so can struggle with the inevitable acronyms, assumptions, and complexity in our work. They are looking for clearly communicated, simple, collated evidence, easily and quickly available when they need it.

It’s something that our Research and Insight team at Youth Sport Trust have been attempting to address with the development and publication of the 'Knowledge Bank', a centralised open-access collection of the research and evidence on the issues facing children and the importance of activity. Similarly, we published the second 'PE and School Sport Report' earlier this year, designed to be a summary of the latest evidence in an easily accessible format for those that prefer data to tell a simple story. Both are gaining traction and increasingly being referenced in new work; however we need to do more to develop and promote these.

There’s a lot more we can do as a community too: in this week’s session there was a recognition of the need for a sector-wide, collective commitment to sharing, communicating, and presenting our evidence to ensure that it doesn’t sit on a shelf (or even not making it to the shelf, to stretch the original analogy). To do this, we may have to look for help across and beyond our traditional disciplines, involving behaviour change and communications specialists, and spend more time simplifying and curating our outputs to make them accessible and understandable. By doing this, we should begin to un-'lock' the power of our collective evidence!

Amanda’s LinkedIn

The Power of the Collective, the Power of Purpose

Will Roberts – Chief Operating Officer, Youth Sport Trust, 29 September 2023

This week, the School Sport and Activity Sector Partnership came together in Birmingham for its 2023 summit. This event and the gathering of those present crystallised in my mind the power of collective action and of working for a shared purpose that goes beyond the individual wants and needs of our own organisations.

When the government announced the first School Sport and Activity Action Plan in the summer of 2019, the sport sector was moved to act collectively through a written response signed by the CEOs of 39 national sporting organisations. The message was clear; as much as the plan was welcomed, more was needed to really improve young lives through physical activity, play, physical education, and sport.

There’s nothing remarkable about that, but what came next was markedly different to what the sector had done before. We invited officials from various government departments, all the signatory organisations (and a bunch of others), and education leaders to come together for 36 hours at Twickenham, curated by the Youth Sport Trust team out of which emerged the School Sport and Activity Sector Partnership and five pledges.

Over the intervening period these pledges have been refined, and can now be summed up as:

  • Commitment to take collective direct action
  • Recognition of the value and strength of speaking with a collective voice
  • A desire to drive change in the sector for young people, from within.

Whilst the Youth Sport Trust created the group and led it from the front since its inception, we recognised that it was the power of the collective, galvanised to act, that had the greatest potential to drive change. As a result, we have spent the last 12-15 months seeking to change the dynamic and maximise that potential to be truly collaborative, and with leads nominated by the group have gone through a journey of self-governance that has created a series of 'united action' working groups.

With that as context, what did the 2023 summit do?

Youth Sport Trust CEO Alison Oliver opened the day reinforcing the roots of this partnership, encouraging the 120 representatives from around 70 sector organisations to continue to take direct collective action in a citizen, rather than institution-led approach. If we can recognise and agree on the challenges as we see them, what can we do together to tackle them.

Speakers from both the Department for Education (DfE) and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) gave endorsement to this in the policy updates provided, indicating that it was the collective voice and trusted nature of the School Sport and Activity Sector Partnership that had led to the government including specific points within the updated School Sport and Activity Action Plan, and in the new sport strategy 'Get Active' both published in the summer of 2023.

And yet it was the keynote speaker, Sally Bacon OBE who shone the greatest light on the power of the collective and the power of purpose as she illustrated the challenges faced by the Arts and Culture in the education system, and how the Cultural Learning Alliance works collectively to take action and to influence. 

In sport we talk about the Arts and Culture being the place to learn from about working together to drive change… and heard from Sally that the opposite is also the case and that the cultural learning world point towards compulsory PE hours through to the end of secondary school, and to the Primary Premium as indications of where we are better off. The grass is rarely greener, but there are always opportunities to learn.

To every turn I heard direct parallels on the barriers we face on the position of physical education, physical activity, play and sport in education, and those faced by the Arts and Culture. The tactics deployed that have been proven effective over years at local and national level are similar, had similar levels of beneficial impact and sadly suffered the same fate.

Hearing the approach of the Cultural Learning Alliance took me to the difference between Objectives, Strategy and Tactics. Our cause isn’t sport. Our purpose is young people, and so our objective is to overcome the ills in society that the 'misery stats' we in sport share in common with those in Arts and Culture. These include child poverty levels, record levels of mental health issues for young people, and a 24th place in the PISA rankings of European countries for life satisfaction in young people.

There is no doubt that the Cultural Learning Alliance has built a strong and united voice for their sector, with salient advice for those of us who see sport as a critical strategy to supporting young people. Sally Bacon’s advice to sport sector was:

  1. Consultation – secure collaborative agreement
  2. Coalition in king/queen – work together and in partnership
  3. Clarity is key – the ‘what’, ‘so what’, and ‘now what’
  4. Crafting – the value narrative from a clear and strong evidence base.

Our strategy in the sport sector to overcome this is of course sport and we have our own set of tactics. But it was what Sally Bacon said next that really rang true for me – that the Cultural Learning Alliance describes their worries as being the Canary in the 'school mine'. When the place of Arts and Culture, and PE, sport, physical activity, and play is challenged and undermined in schools then the purpose of education becomes monolithic and it is young people and therefore society that suffers.

The panel discussion that followed, adding the voices of Clare Hoods-Truman (Executive Principle at Oasis Academy Blakenhale) and Alton Brown whose experiences transcend the youth work, cultural, and sporting sectors reinforced the holistic nature of the challenges facing young people. Both were able to join with Sally Bacon and Ali Oliver in exploring how a rich and broad approach to our support, environment, and life 'curriculum' of experiences for young people is central to them building happy and fulfilled lives.

Partner-led content then drove much of the remaining programme through a sharing forum akin to 'TED Talks' and Action Groups.  

These sessions were focussed on three themes (Physical Literacy, Workforce Development, Youth Engagement) and included speakers from the National Youth Sport Forum – the representatives of the youth boards of many sports organisations, and from 11 different organisations from across the physical activity, play, physical education, and sport sectors.

To have the representatives of 70 organisations come together in this way bodes well for the future united actions of the sector for the benefit of young people. For the Youth Sport Trust this the heart of our mission to create a future where every child enjoys the life changing benefits of play and sport.

Will’s LinkedIn