Pioneering new trends in school sport

Mark Turnbull, Headteacher at Giggleswick School, discusses how the school is embracing individual sports

Against a background of increasing participation in sport in general there is a national trend for more and more people to take up individual sports. 

Consquently, at Giggleswick we are actively encouraging interest in cycling, running, climbing, golf, triathlon and cyclocross and are lucky to have the natural surroundings which are perfect for these sports. Every child has the opportunity to try a wide range of sports, including the ‘newer’ individual ones and the more traditional team games like rugby, cricket and hockey, in which we have always been strong.

It’s important to recognise that individual doesn’t have to mean alone. I have found a surprising amount of teamwork involved in the newer sports. It is vital for the modern workplace to develop these skills in school but they are not exclusively built on the pitch or court. Ask anyone tackling a difficult route up a crag how much they have to work with the person belaying them at the bottom.

Giggleswick has embraced the trend towards individual sports by investing in purpose-built facilities including a mountain bike track, a modern sports hall, new well-equipped conditioning gym and, most recently, an indoor climbing wall (below). 

Positively, we are already seeing results from our investment in these facilities. One of our recent sixth formers has competed in cyclocross races throughout the last two summer and winter seasons. A Year 7 pupil was the British champion in her category in judo and a Year 11 was selected to run for England in the European Mountain Running Youth Cup.

The climbing wall was opened by Alan Hinkes OBE last year and provides somewhere for learning and perfecting skills before heading out to the local countryside which is famous among climbers. At a time when sport climbing is looking forward to its first inclusion in the Olympic Games, pupils can tackle outdoor, limestone sport climbs literally on the doorstep, and traditional crags within the school’s main grounds. 

However, facilitating individual sports has brought its own managerial challenges. Finding time to run individual sports as well as traditional sports is much more feasible within the extended day of a boarding school. In the lower years the curriculum can provide the balance between commitments to team sports, which clearly need a critical mass of participation to make them work, alongside opportunities to try newer sports. 

As pupils move through the school they then have more opportunity to make their own choices about where they are going to commit their time and energies. The reality is that it is difficult to do everything that is on offer across the whole curriculum and choices will have to made, but we want these to be positive decisions based upon the priority of one activity over another.

Many of the newer sports require specialist skills and training and resourcing is a factor. Increasingly this has to be considered in recruitment while at the same time looking at the cost effectiveness of offering any activity. 

In my experience, the success of any particular activity comes down to the enthusiasm of a member of staff and their ability to engage and properly instruct the pupils. So often you see a school flying high in a particular sport or activity and invariably this is down to the energy and persistence of an individual who manages to light a flame across the staff and pupils.

Mark Turnbull

Fitting such a range of activities into the curriculum is difficult but it is possible. Giggleswick’s solution is to recognise that a whole year group or division does not have to be doing the same thing at once. The school uses prep times to run some activities with a careful watch being taken by tutors to ensure academic work is still being given the right priority. It makes for a very busy day but one from which a great deal of enjoyment can be gained. 

Giggleswick’s move towards a greater variety of sports began as a gradual shift based upon the skill base of existing staff. To this was added the pupil voice and demands from them for particular sports. When you live in such a stunning place you often attract staff who want to work in this environment because they want to enjoy the landscape in their time off. This means they are often already keen climbers or cyclists. It has also meant that we have not had to buy in much extra expertise.

That said, we always recruit the best teachers first, so occasionally, when a member of staff has moved on, we have not been able to find the fit of classroom subject and activity skill which has meant buying in extra expertise. I am not convinced this always works quite as well. A visiting instructor doesn’t have the benefit of seeing the children in the rest of the day and gauging their response or feeding their enthusiasm.

Ultimately, sport for Giggleswick is all about participation and personal development and, in particular, the character we encourage in pupils to give them the best opportunities beyond school – such as resilience, passion and a proactive, assured outlook on life. Traditional sports as well as individual ones, have a huge part to play in developing young people, encouraging teamwork and important life skills. We give children the time to embrace the benefits of both. 


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