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Sport for all at Appleford

Headmaster, David King, says changes at the school offer evidence that a healthy body really does make for a healthy mind

Posted by Julian Owen | October 31, 2018 | Teaching

For a number of years it has been accepted that children have become less active, and the impact on their health and prospects has become ever more obvious. Recent NHS data (May 2018) supports this view, with over a third of Year 6 pupils being overweight and a fifth classified as obese. As a boarding school - with 70% of our pupils spending as much time under our roof as at home - if we didn’t do something, who would? Appleford therefore decided to tackle this issue head on, making fundamental changes to the school day to improve access to PE.

The school day was extended to 5pm to provide additional timetabled PE lessons for all pupils. This resulted in every child engaging in daily 40 minute personal fitness programmes, carefully planned and monitored under the oversight of a new Head of PE. This element of change focused primarily on getting our pupils to a level of fitness whereby participation in sport would become a genuine option. Fitness levels were developed through a circuit training methodology, combined with the monitoring of all pupils using a range of performance assessment tools. In order to fully involve parents, twice yearly reports were provided to evidence progress.

With a body of healthier, fitter children, a programme of enhanced participation sports was introduced. Rather than optional after-school clubs, Wednesday afternoons were designated as co-curricular activity lessons, thereby providing three hours of timetabled sporting opportunities for all pupils. In addition to all the conventional sports, we now also have teams and individual participation in basketball, Australian rules football, boxing, Romano-Greco wrestling and trampolining, to name but a few.

A renewed focus was placed on providing enhanced opportunities for competitive sport, with weekly fixtures being the norm, many against much larger schools. Notably, we had representation and a high level of success in regional and national events such as swimming, cross country and athletics. At the recent ISA National Athletics Championships, the South West team comprised over 20% from Appleford, with Applefordians winning medals in a number of events and even breaking national records.

To put sporting excellence into the national context for our pupils, frequent termly visits to sporting events were introduced, including rugby internationals, football league fixtures, county cricket matches and even a high profile Australian rules football match. Visits to the school by notable sportsmen were arranged, including Kenny Logan (Scotland RFU captain) and John Harris, a Paralympic gold medallist.

Appleford even looked beyond the national stage, and competed at an international U16 netball tournament in Paris against over 50 teams from around the world, with our girls reaching the quarter finals.

This level of success is all the more remarkable considering we are a small school of only 130 pupils It is very much down to the emphasis we have put on personal fitness and engagement in sport, as well as a reflection of the school's investment in not only equipment and resources, but staff expertise.

Alongside these developments, we also took the opportunity to review our dining arrangements. Through the appointment of a new chef and changes to arrangements, we have been able to ensure all pupils have a healthy diet worthy of future Olympiads – no packed lunches or turkey twizzlers.

It was originally thought by some that the extension of the school day and the above changes would have a negative and tiring effect on learning. In fact, the opposite has been the case. There has been a measurable increase in engagement and performance (including a 16% rise in GCSE attainment). Focus and concentration has improved, as has the motivation of the pupils to do well in all areas of their learning.

The notion of ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ has actually been evidenced at the school, to the acclaim and great support of the parent body. As ever at Appleford, ‘Better never stops’ and, already, the Head of PE is working on further improvements for next year.

The only question remaining is why doesn’t every school do this?

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