What’s the future of school sports?

Carol Chandler-Thompson, Head of Blackheath High School GDST, discusses alternative sports and encouraging girls to take risks

By Alex Diggins

Alongside the traditional sports on offer, what new sports have been introduced?

At Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) schools, we are committed to offering a diverse range of sports as possible. In recent years we have added a whole range of sports in our schools– including cricket, football, tag rugby, dance, yoga, pilates, Zumba and boxing; in addition, of course, to the well-loved, more ‘traditional sports’ such as netball, hockey and rounders.

What prompted their introduction?

We believe there is a sport for everyone. Diversifying the curriculum, especially as students get older, means that we do not lose the interest of girls who have not found an affinity with ‘traditional’ sports. The positive benefits of sport and exercise are well known – supporting mental wellbeing, as a great way to have fun and make friends, and of course keeping physically fit. We hope they will all find something they love and will enjoy for life.

What other forms has this diversity taken?

At GDST, we’re committed to extending our widening sports offerings to the local community. All schools have initiatives that enable other students from local schools to take part. Shrewsbury High, for example, have provided annual tournaments in football, netball, cross country, orienteering, cricket and rounders for local primary schools for the last 6 years,  working in collaboration with Shrewsbury Primary Schools Sports Partnership.

What have these alternative sports added to the student experience?

Diversification has made sport more accessible to a greater number of girls. Sport is important for helping to foster key life skills such as leadership, collaboration and teamwork. We have seen the students grow in confidence and enthusiasm, all of which feeds into their success and energy in other areas of their school experience. Learning to win and lose gracefully, be committed to a team, to be disciplined and focussed; these are all essential skills that support academic success and a healthy balanced approach to life’s challenges.

Female sport has been far more in the news recently, has this had any effect on the perception of sport among girls at school-level?

We are so pleased to see women’s sport is finally coming into the spotlight nationally. In school, girls are inspired by these elite athletes reaching the top of their game and this breeds confidence as they realise there are so many opportunities available to them – on and off the pitch.

What has the uptake of these sports been like?

Uptake has been extremely encouraging. Most heartening has been a reversal of the trend for girls to give up on sport around GCSEs. In my own school, Blackheath High, there is a really vibrant Sixth Form sports programme that sees girls rowing at the Royal Albert Docks every week, for example.

 Does any distinct policy underpin this reversal?

Well, our whole approach to school life is to encourage girls to take risks and “have a go” –  it’s no different for sport. We want to help them find their passion and a sport they enjoy. I can’t pretend they all love every sport put in front of them, but they certainly seem to enjoy having a go! 

What challenges have you faced introducing these new sports. It can’t all have been an easy ride?

Of course whenever you introduce a new sport, you need teachers with the right training and expertise. We are fortunate at GDST to be able to share expertise. We have expert teachers who lead training and share best practice across all the schools.

We’ve also set-up initiatives with outside experts. Our ‘Cricket Hubs’ launched this year across the country. We’re working with ex-England players, like Lydia Greenaway, to provide coaching to staff and girls. Not only is this a great way to help upskill staff across our skills, the coaches provide inspirational role models to girls. There is nothing like “seeing is believing” when it comes to thinking about what you can achieve in your chosen sport.