Senior Leaders – A future gold medalist or removing disadvantage?

Does your school have a successful sport programme?

What does it mean for a school to be successful at sport?

In the build up to the Olympics in Rio, there will no doubt be an increase in articles in the media about how the school sport system is (or isn’t) helping to produce Gold medalists this summer. But is it the role of schools and PE Departments to produce Gold medalists? Should this traditional viewpoint be maintained? Have senior leaders fully considered the potential of their PE Department to support all students to achieve their full potential?

From September, I will be starting a new post as an Assistant Principal – Minority and Vulnerable Groups – Achievement. As part of this role, I will be responsible for ensuring that disadvantaged students perform at least as well as non – disadvantaged students. I have recently been pursuing professional development opportunities and reading research on disadvantaged children in education to help shape my approach to the role.

One source has been Dr Dan Nicholls (@drdannicholls) and his blog. In his post Disadvantaged Children – Think low attainment not low ability  he opens with a series of “it’s probably true that” statements. He writes:

It is probably true that… Primary and Secondary schools need to do more to close the gap in attainment between disadvantaged and advantaged children; perhaps seeing it more as low attainment and not low ability or delayed progress and not that there is a limit to a child’s potential. We know that gaps appear early (ages 0-4) and widen through a child’s education. All of which has a deep impact on the child’s life chance and success that ultimately leads to generational cycles of poverty and disadvantage.

Which begs the question… what does it take to close these gaps and disrupt the loop of unequal opportunity and outcomes?

He goes on to say:

What if… education reinforces early advantage and accumulated advantage for advantaged students and inadvertently creates conditions where early attainment gaps widen?… do we disadvantage the disadvantaged?

All of which (combined with my background in PE), prompted this series of thoughts…

FACT – Participating in regular physical activity improves academic progress and emotional well being.

FACT – evidence has shown that participating in organised clubs, contributes to accelerated academic progress.

FACT – Disadvantaged children are less likely to participate in community sports clubs than advantaged children.

FACT – Disadvantaged children are more likely to de-select themselves from clubs when offered at school as a consequence of the previous fact.

FACT – Some parents associate schools that have successful sports teams with having high academic achievement.

FACT – What parents think of a school matters to senior leaders, in terms of recruiting high numbers.

FACT – More broadly, Ofsted look at the progress being made by all groups of students, in all years, at all times.

FACT – Ofsted will look at how disadvantaged students are performing and look at what provision is being offered to remove their disadvantage.

FACT – I have taught several national standard athletes across a range of sports and claim (little) no credit for their sporting success (instead, attributing success primarily to the opportunity facilitated by their parents, the thousands of hours of purposeful practice, the expertise of their coaches and NGB funding).

FACT – there is a finite amount of time and resources to “provide weekly opportunities for all pupils to participate and compete in school sport” (Beyond 2012 – Outstanding Physical Education for all)
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/413187/Beyond_2012_-_outstanding_physical_education_for_all.pdf

Following this pondering, here are some questions for Senior Leaders and PE Leaders to consider…

Are your PE teachers aware of the context surrounding disadvantaged students?

Do you have an opinion on what role your PE Department / school sport should play in your school?

Does your PE Department have a strategy for participation in school sport?

Do you know what level of disadvantaged students engage in your school sport programme?

Do you know what level of SEND students engage in your school sport programme?

Do you prioritise providing the most able pupils to attain high standards of performance through school sport?

Does this approach serve to widen the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students?

Is there a right or wrong answer to the order of priority?

How does the school context impact on this decision?

Does your PE team have the capacity to achieve their extra curricular aims?

How far do you go to support your PE staff to provide extra curricular sport, alongside the demands and expectations of other classroom teachers with regard to achieving (better than) expected progress in GCSE PE, BTEC Sport, A Level PE etc.?

Returning to the first two questions, but this time in reverse order…

What does it mean for a school to be successful at sport?

Does your school have a successful sport programme?

Would you be more proud of your school producing a future gold medalist or removing disadvantage for students to improve their future life chances? Is it possible to achieve both?

Further reading:

We Don’t Want PE to Produce Future World Champions – June 2014

School Sport – Development of G&T or Promotion of Sport For All – January 2013

Finally, I had the opportunity to attend a lunch with Sir Michael Wilshaw, Sir David Carter (then Chief Executive Principal of the Cabot Learning Federation and now National Schools Commissioner) and other Senior / Executive Leaders of the Cabot Learning Federation. I took the opportunity to ask Sir Michael, “in light of the recent Ofsted report – Outstanding Physical Education For All (2012), what do you think is more important; a PE Department that produces National League winning sports teams or one that works towards full engagement of all students, from all groups, within a truly inclusive ethos?” His answer… “The best PE Departments manage to do both”. I missed my opportunity to follow up the question.

n.b. Apologies for the poor format of this post. I’m in a tent, on holiday, and the IPad is struggling with the WiFi connection, significantly reducing the number of functions available to me!

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