An Evolving offer for Wyre and Fylde School Sport

The Wyre and Fylde School Sports Association is a collection of ten rural and semirural comprehensives based between Preston and Blackpool in sunny Lancashire. My school, Garstang Academy, is the smallest with a roll of 750 and is also the most rural with a mini bus drive of 40 minutes to our most distant partner school. The Association meets twice a year and works closely with our District School Sports Organiser.

The Associations’ Inter School Sports Offer (ISSO) is comprehensive and well organised. For boys there are competitions in football, rugby, basketball, cricket and recently we have added handball to the equation.

Over the past ten years Garstang has enjoyed significant success in district competitions particularly with basketball and rugby. After a decade of success, letters of congratulations from MPs and our Headteacher waxing lyrical about our honours board, as a department we were quite pleased with ourselves and happy with the status quo.

This changed in 2016 upon returning in the mini bus after a district final win in basketball. After all the practice, hard work and energy in reaching this triumph as I was driving back to school and I overheard the students. They were talking about everything except the victory that they had just achieved. The ‘banter’ was football transfers, homework or looking down at their smartphones. The trophy was shoved on a spare seat and a certain feeling of guilt came over me. Were the hours I had spent teaching and coaching this team the best allocation of my time, experience and knowledge?

The next day I worked out the time it takes for one PE teacher to coach, organise and transport a team to success. I worked out below how much time was taken for just one team.

  • In one half term we had six matches, home or away based on getting back to school this averaged out at three hours per match.
  • I would have one practice a week in that half term which took about an hour and a half of my time.

The result is that for one sports team over the course of a half term I was giving up 27 hours of my time for the benefit of 6-12 boys.

This was the moment that my philosophy as a Head of PE teacher changed. No longer did I think that the department’s success would be judged on the honours board. I realised that my role was to teach the fundamentals, to give students an opportunity to experience new sports, give them a taste of competition and then encourage the pathway to club. For too long I had run a department which fulfilled the club role at the expense of those students who were falling under the radar.

I chatted with two colleagues from schools within the Association about my epiphany. Surprisingly they agreed and didn't think I was in need of early retirement! We collaborated to see how we could adapt our ISSO with a view to increasing impact and reducing workload. I put a presentation together with a new vision and my two colleagues encouraged me to present it to the Association at the AGM in May 2016.

At the AGM the main points I raised, as well as the time factor, were in line with DfE policy paper on Sports Participation.

  • Create more opportunities for young people to play sport
  • Nurture and develop talent
  • Right facilities in the right places
  • More young people to have a sporting habit for life
  • Improve links between schools and clubs.

I talked about opportunities and asked everyone to self-reflect on:

  • How many different sports can your student access to play competitively?
  • How many of your different sports are accessed by the same students?
  • Are we giving extra competitive fixtures to students who are accessing considerable competitive fixtures outside of school?

Of course every district has its own barriers and unique issues but for us we highlighted the following as barriers for increasing participation in inter school sport.

  • Time – GCSE, Btec, TLRs, family and life
  • Facilities – No 3G or floodlights
  • Teachers’ qualifications and expertise
  • No funding or co-ordination.

In anticipation of these issues I came prepared with what I believed to be a solution. Central Venue Leagues (CVL) competitions rather than isolated fixtures, the main advantages that I highlighted included:

  • No cancelled fixtures
  • Not affected by weather
  • Develop talent by inviting clubs
  • More sports played competitively
  • CPD for staff
  • You can plan around the calendar to offer opportunities for middle and low ability
  • Opt in or opt out depending on individual school situations.

I showed an example of what our new ISSO could look like and at the end of the AGM to my amazement every school had voted in favour of trialling the new ISSO starting that September! I had only aimed at the boys provision but with key opinion makers on the girls side stating the need for change they decided to adopt an abridged version of the CVL format. It was inspiring seeing competition organisers getting together and coordinating to get things sorted in time for September.

We have just completed our first year using our new ISSO CVL format for boys and have reviewed, reflected and analysed how things have gone. Overall 856 boys inter school sport fixtures took place involving 1,560 boys across seven different sports. All schools were surveyed and when asked whether they wanted to continue the new ISSO 100% said yes. The main improvements included zero cancellations and postponements and easy planning for transport and staff. Parents preferred this format as dates were fixed. Inter form for non-team players on the same night increased participation. New sports were led by experienced staff which encouraged schools who otherwise would not feel comfortable officiating and taking part.

Another key element for me as Head of Department was that I timetabled on the curriculum the sport in which we competed at using the ISSO and did away with practices after school. If you enjoyed playing sport during lesson, compete either in the ISSO or inter form, and then join a club. This became a mantra for us this year. My club partners also saw a dramatic increase in their numbers!

We have already planned the ISSO for 2017/18 and the competition organisers of each sport deserve high praise for giving the students of the Wyre and Fylde a strong platform to engage in a wide variety of sports. I am proud to be part of an organisation which has overcome the several barriers to change. In January I was asked to present our vision to Preston Schools District Association after hearing about what we were doing in the Wyre and Fylde. As a result Preston voted in favour of trialling their own version of the ISSO and are rolling it out for 2017/18.

I could write a book on how each sport was organised with logistics, facilities, etc but I will discuss that another time. Overall I’m looking forward to another CVL year with a calendar I can efficiently plan and that more students will access.

Gordon Kidd, PE CatalYST, Garstang Academy, Lancashire