Top tips for a return to PE from John Spence Community High School

Adam Pilkington, Director of Sport at John Spence Community High School, North Shields, blogs about his school's return to PE.

Like many schools, we’re operating in bubbles, staggering lunchtimes and our pupils are remaining in classrooms while teachers move around to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

We noticed similar trends at John Spence to the Return to PE research results published by the Youth Sport Trust in September. As a YST Premium member school and having won an award at the 25th Anniversary YST Conference, PE is vital to our school ethos and it’s paramount we continue to provide it as ‘normally’ as possible. 

The national lockdown earlier this year has sadly widened the fitness gap between our pupils. Those who were previously more active have done more physical activity and those who are generally less active have done little to no physical activity during lockdown. We’re noticing that some pupils are lacking motivation, with this seemingly getting worse towards the end of the day and later in the week as young people aren’t used to the early starts and five hour days. We’ve also seen a decline in some pupils’ resilience who are giving up more quickly in relation to fitness, skills and games or if they’re challenged. 

Here are some of the ways we’re keeping PE on the curriculum in spite of COVID-19:

  • Make use of your local School-centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) programme: PE staffing was tough during the first two weeks of returning to school. With four staff members down, we had cover teachers coming in who, despite doing a good job, didn’t have keys, know where equipment was or really know the pupils. Sadly this ended up adding more pressure on the existing staff. Fortunately, we’re part of our local SCITT programme, so we were able to ask their former students to cover some of our PE sessions. We found they were keen and had some good standard specialist PE teachers. 
  • Try to continue as normally as possible: At the beginning of the return to school, there was a lot of information around PE and school sport to sift through, which was difficult to interpret. With our young people not moving between lessons like they usually would, it’s vital we continue to provide PE as ‘normally’ as possible, following a broad and balanced curriculum. We offered a mashup of activity to make the first eight lessons of the term fun, engaging and pupil centred. Using online learning for self-isolating staff and pupils has helped maintain the teaching flow.
  • Allow students to come to school in PE kit: Like many schools, we’ve asked pupils to come in their kit on the days they have PE, which has enhanced the amount of time we have with them and means fewer pupils forget their kit. This has also meant that some students who have the ‘changing room fear’ are more likely to come to school with their kit and not worry about when their next PE lesson is. We’re yet to combat cold and wet weather issues, but will be proactive when these arise. For example, we’ll be exploring having indoor groups, pupils covering their kit with their uniform after PE and pupils bringing uniform in a bag in case kit gets muddy or wet.
  • Do what you can: The only extra-curricular programme we currently have takes place after school for one hour. All facilities are open during that time with five staff for one year group to play fun, social sport. Sadly we aren’t currently able to offer lunchtime activities due to staggered lunchtimes, staffing shortages and bubbles, but we’re pleased to be offering something.

Our huge sporting enrichment programme is not yet in place due to external coaches not being allowed on the school site. We’re also having to think creatively about how to make the most out of our Youth Sport Trust programmes such as our Leading, Coaching and Volunteering Lead School status, Girls ActiveActive in Mind and FA Girls Football School Partnerships supported by Barclays. 

What tips do you have to share for your return to PE? Be sure to share them on social media, tagging @YouthSportTrust and using the hashtag #ReturntoPE. For more support, information and resources, take a look at the Youth Sport Trust return to school support pages.