Directly speaking

Steve Wright quizzes leading Directors of Sport about the job’s pleasures and challenges; here he talks to Jacqueline Atkinson

Jacqueline Atkinson is Director of Sport, Newcastle High School for Girls

âž¡ What do you think are the responsibilities of an effective DoS?

Sporting success comes on the back of pupil enjoyment. If girls enjoy and are challenged by lessons, their desire to pursue a higher level of performance is ignited. So my first responsibility must be for the quality of the sporting curriculum.

Team sports aren’t for everyone, but all girls should experience competitive team situations in a number of sports. Alongside this a range of transferable Functional Movement Systems (FMS) can be established within the curriculum via sports such as swimming, gymnastics, tennis and athletics. Furthermore, as girls grow older, we must provide opportunities for everyone to find the activities that enthuse them, promoting exercise as an integral part of their week.

Attendance at extra-curricular activities is good – almost too good – at NHSG, and this requires a balancing act. Trying to offer quality coaching and matches to all abilities, and to drive excellence for top players without B and C team players missing out, is the real challenge.

âž¡ How has the role changed recently?
The use of iPads, GoPro, YouTube and video analysis of performance has made many aspects of the job more interesting, and has allowed us to ensure that girls have actually seen the sports we are teaching. So many girls arrive at age 11 never having seen a game of hockey or volleyball, and being able to watch a film of what they are trying to learn is a fantastic teaching aid.

A new venture has been the introduction of a discrete Fitness and Wellbeing course, delivered throughout Year 9. It allows us to teach girls about a healthy lifestyle with exercise at the core. It gives them the chance to explore how diet, hydration, activity levels and sleep contribute to their wellbeing, and can enhance performance.

âž¡ Do you think there are different sporting ethoses at play in boys’, girls’ and co-educational schools?
Our own ethos has to reflect the concerns regarding girls’ health and wellbeing – and to enable all girls to feel valued and successful, whilst allowing them to select the activities that will inspire them. Our Year 10 and over curriculum features everything from rugby to golf and zumba to lacrosse. The girls aren’t self-conscious about starting a new sport as they feel comfortable within their peer group.

From an extra-curricular point of view, the demands on PE staff are often much higher in girls’ schools. The staff outside our department are not required to deliver any aspects of PE, so our seven PE staff run every sports team from Year 3 to Year 13. Every teacher has to coach or take matches almost every day before school, at lunchtime and after school, and on Saturdays. With three netball, two hockey, and single gymnastics, trampoline, cross country, badminton, squash, swimming, biathlon, athletics, tennis and rounders teams at every age group, we have little free time.

âž¡ What are the job’s rewards and challenges?
The rewards are massive. I get to do something I enjoy every single day, working with great staff and lovely girls. Challenges really pertain to time. Wanting to give all girls the opportunity to play, while allowing the very best girls the opportunity to train to the top level, is a constant juggling act. I am blessed with a highly committed department who work hard to meet the challenges of both inclusion and excellence.

âž¡ What are your ambitions and projects going forward?
I reached my own sporting ambition last year when I had my 50th birthday, still playing netball for my team! At the school, we are entering an exciting time as we move to our brand new buildings next September – with fitness room, two sports halls and, with luck, an astroturf pitch.

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