Sport is a key part of life at Taunton and, as head of PE, Hayley Mortimer is not only responsible for curriculum-based PE in the school, she also liaises with all the different heads of sport in order to create a co-curricular plan for all the students.
HM: We take sport really seriously. I suppose we’ve got two main aims with our sport: one is to push those who want to be elite to be as elite as they can be. And our second aim is to have a breadth of activities that enables every student to partake in something that they enjoy and can see themselves doing for life. Both are equally important to me.
My job in the school is to put that ethos into action – so that means not only their sports-specific training – strength and conditioning programmes and so on – but also links with outside organisations and the coaches we employ. I’m also the person who is identifying those people who maybe aren’t in the elite games bracket and trying to work out what sort of things they want me to offer. It’s about encouraging pupils to enjoy their sport. As they get older we encourage them to filter their way into the sports that they want to do.
IE: I’ve heard that teenage girls in particular reach puberty and lose interest in sport. Do you have much of a problem with that?
HM: I don’t think we have the same problem here. I think it’s a classic thing that happens with all girls because when you reach puberty your body shape changes and with PE you’ll always be on show, and they’re aware of that. Now, as long as you make the environment supportive – as long as you make the activities that they want to take part in fun and enjoyable and you get the girls particularly to want to participate – that’s not a problem. The problem is when you do the things that they don’t want to do. As long as they see it as their choice – whether it’s zumba or volleyball – they will buy into it, they want to work hard, they want to do those sorts of things. If I said to them “You have to do hockey” or “You have to do cricket”, I’m taking ownership away from them. I think it’s really important – encouraging that participation to carry on.
IE: Are you fully co-educational in terms of the school then? Do the girls play rugby?
HM: We do girls’ football and in the spring term we’ll do some tag rugby, and in years gone by girls have played in the boys’ cricket teams, but now, because girls’ cricket is a massive sport, we’re offering girls’ cricket as a team now. They can do all those sorts of things. Vice versa, not so much, because boys play football and rugby and basketball, and they want to go on the fitness suite, and they play hockey anyway. I don’t have boys asking me to play netball other than to play against the girls – we have a charity match at the end of the term when the boys’ rugby team plays the girls’ netball team.
IE: Who wins?
HM: The girls. And it’s actually a really good game for the girls, because they have to play a different style of netball, so it gets them to think. No longer can they put the ball in the air, because if they put the ball in the air, every boy will get it, because they’re a foot taller, so actually it’s a really good coaching tool to get the girls to play a different type of game.
IE: How do you deal with the fact that students are on different skill levels?
HM: It’s part and parcel of PE and sport to make those people who aren’t in the first team or whatever feel as special and important as those people who are, and I think that’s something that, as a school, we do really effectively. At the start of every year, I say it’s as important to me that you learn to do a forward roll as it is to do a back somersault, or it is important to me that you learn to catch a ball as well as learn to throw a javelin 40 metres. It doesn’t matter what it is – it matters what the challenge is, and the challenge has to be specific to you. In the PE department, we tend to always finish off with the same question: I say “Who’s done something today that they haven’t done before?” And if there’s a lot of hands in the air, I think as a PE department we go, “Right, we’ve done our job today.”