Direct benefits

More and more independent schools are ensuring that a Director of Sport is the first name on their teamsheet. Paul Dimery reports

Here in Britain, we love a successful sportsperson. When Andy Murray finally lifted the men’s singles trophy at Wimbledon last year, the nation was swept up in a tidal wave of collective pride. The same thing happened at London 2012: as Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis embarked on their laps of honour, having won gold in their respective track and field events, the British public were with them every step of the way.

The feelgood factor that accompanies such triumphs can last for weeks, months and even years. And the good news is that measures are being taken to encourage these sporting successes to come around more often. More and more independent schools are employing Directors of Sport whose jobs – among myriad other tasks – are to co-ordinate both curricular and extra-curricular activities that will create future sporting champions.

What’s more, in the majority of cases, these aren’t simply geography or history professors doubling up as PE teachers: they are highly trained individuals who come from a successful sporting background themselves. As John Claughton, Chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference Sports Committee and Chief Master of King Edward’s School in Birmingham, told The Independent last year: “Not many independent schools now don’t have staff who have played their sport professionally or at international level.”

Take Chris Johnson, Director of Sport at King Edward’s. Prior to working in education, Chris was captain of the rugby league team Rotherham Titans, whom he guided to promotion in 2003. And, as he explains, he has been able to transfer many of the skills that served him so well on the rugby pitch into his new role.

“There are many challenges that are common to both my current and previous roles,” says Johnson who, after retiring from rugby, served for four years as Head of Rugby and PE at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School in Sutton Coldfield before coming to his current position. “People management, fire-fighting and motivation are all key skills. Enthusiasm and a love for what you do, belief in your goals, and bloody-mindedness are also pretty central.”

Johnson’s dedication to the role is clearly paying off. The list of sporting achievements detailed on the King Edward’s website is inspiring, with its pupils excelling in everything from fencing to hockey, judo to badminton. The school’s founder, Edward VI – himself a keen sportsman – would have been proud.

King Edward’s Bath namesake is another institution whose employment of a Director of Sport has yielded emphatic results, both on and off the pitch. Under the stewardship of current DoS Louisa Gwilliam, the school recently formed a partnership with Bath Cricket Club that will enable budding bowlers and batsmen to play matches at BCC’s prestigious ground, and also to use its indoor and outdoor nets for training.

This comes hot on the heels of the school’s 30th annual sports dinner in May, hosted by England prop and former pupil Henry Thomas. Among the students celebrated were sprinter Eliza Reid, who made the semi-finals of this year’s British Athletics Indoor Championships, and Hugh Sloan, part of the Ireland Under 18 squad that took part in the Three Nations tournament against France and England in April.

Says Louisa, “We are delighted to have formed a partnership with Bath Cricket Club. Both the school and the club share a passion for sport, and for developing the next generation of sportsmen and women. We are aiming to enhance the ability of both organisations to offer excellent sporting provision, and to raise the profile of cricket within KES and the community.”

Promoting a school’s image in this way is just one of the tasks that set the Director of Sport role apart from, say, a Head of Games. “Many boards of governors have realised that the ‘old-fashioned’ Head of Games has turned into an administrative role: organising fixtures, transport and catering,” explains Ben Moir, Director of Sport & Activities at Rokeby School in Kingston upon Thames.

“In order to take the profile of school sport to the next level, there is a growing need for someone to drive the strategic development of this key subject. Parents of prospective students will name academic profile as their key priority – but sport comes a close second.”

If all of this sounds like a job fit for a superhero, the typical DoS salary goes some way to reflecting that. Last year, Cheadle Hulme School in Cheshire advertised for a new Director of Sport, with a remuneration package in the region of £50k per annum. Compare that to the maximum of £37k being offered by a secondary school in Gravesend for the role of Head of Physical Education, and you’ll understand the importance of the job.

“Director of Sport positions reflect schools’ growing awareness of the importance of providing a range of sports opportunities,” elaborates Sarah Wilson, Director of Physical Education and Sport at St Helen and St Katharine girls’ school in Oxfordshire. “That range of sports is good for the students themselves and, by extension, is good for recruitment.

“When a school employs high-level coaches from outside – as we do at St Helen and St Katharine – a Director is the co-ordinating contact point for them,” she continues. “But the real benefit of having a Director of Sport is that they can manage and balance a really broad selection of activities – and make sure that, as well as the traditional team games, there is provision for things like gymnastics, dance, taekwondo, fencing, sailing, pilates, and even personal fitness and training. This is more and more what pupils and parents are looking for – and, of course, we all want to encourage lifelong participation and to help young people to find an activity they will continue enjoying long after they’ve left school.”

The idea of school sports shaping personalities and providing long-term gain is one that John Claughton very much buys into. “A diverse range of sporting activity can do wondrous things,” he says. “It teaches boys and girls how to compete and to co-operate. It teaches them to enjoy things that will be of value for the future, in terms of health and participation. And it provides more different ways in which pupils can be successful and gain self-confidence.”

If you add together all of the above expectations, it would seem that the challenge for Directors of Sport is tougher than ever – and this is something that Andy Weston of coaching education providers Independent Coach Education confirms. “The role of Director of Sport is becoming ever more complex, and the need to be aware of current research and updated opinion has never been greater,” Andy points out. “The place of sport in independent schools, and the expectations of parents, continues to change and evolve. Nothing in the training of teachers prepares them for the challenge of this unique role, which is fundamental to the market position of every school.”

Sounds daunting: but for a man like Chris Johnson, who has dedicated his life to playing and teaching sport, it’s a prospect that he relishes every single day. “My mission at King Edward’s is to open up sporting opportunities for all our pupils,” he says. “I am here to engage, enthuse and motivate as many boys as possible to participate in recreational and competitive sport to an appropriate level, both during their time at KES and for the rest of their lives; and to educate our pupils in the personal and social skills that sports – in particular team sports – provide.

“Sport is at the heart of our country, and more recent sporting successes on an international level have raised the expectations of the British people,’ Chris concludes. “On the back of this, schools have seen that a well-structured, varied and successful sports programme is a powerful marketing tool in what can be a very competitive arena.”

Britain awaits the next Andy Murray with baited breath…




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