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School sport: Could dinner ladies transform school sport?

An innovative programme which trains ‘dinner ladies’ – lunchtime assistants – and other school staff to deliver sports sessions during breaks has engaged and activated more than 15,000 children in inner city London

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 27 Jun 2016 issue 123
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The sessions have improved children’s physical literacy skills
The sessions have improved children’s physical literacy skills

How do you get inner city school children – notoriously hard to engage in after school activities – to do more sport? The answer could be to engage them during lunch times.

A project which does just this, by upskilling lunchtime assistants and other school staff to deliver sports sessions during lunch times, is claiming remarkable results. Called Engage To Compete (ETC), the initiative is being run by youth activity specialist Fit For Sport and has been so successful that it has now secured Sport England funding and is being expanded in two London boroughs.

TRANSFORMING BEHAVIOUR
So far, the campaign has trained more than 700 school staff to deliver physical activity sessions at 44 schools across the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Sandwell. Staff were shown how to engage children in activity and help them achieve the government guideline of 60 minutes of activity a day for every child.

Using lunchtime activities as a focal point, staff were given guidance on how to increase physical activity, develop competition and deliver the Engage To Compete challenge: a set of simple challenges to measure children’s physical literacy and fitness levels including stamina, agility and co-ordination.

“Engage To Compete has totally changed the way we run our playground and it has given us a new lease of life with a broad range of ideas on how to engage our pupils in physical activity,” says Joanne Hingley, a PE teacher at St Hubert’s School in Sandwell – one of the schools taking part. “As well as improvements in the playground, Engage To Compete has resulted in a more positive atmosphere in the classroom too.”

IMPROVING SKILLS
The schools taking part have reported improvements in children’s behaviour and concentration levels, as well as reductions in staff time spent dealing with incidents in the playground. Children’s activity levels have also improved and, thanks to the training they have received, school staff have been left feeling more confident in taking an active role in play time.

As well as increased academic performance, the scheme has led to improvements in children’s core skills and physical literacy. Fit For Sport measures children’s skills across three areas during and after the initiative: hand-eye coordination (measured using a throwing and catching challenge), body coordination (a jumping challenge) and agility (an agility run). “Scores improved over the academic year for all three challenges,” says Dean Horridge, CEO of Fit For Sport. “Children not only increased their activity levels but also their confidence to take part in activity and competition.”

The increase in pupils’ confidence levels has meant many of the schools, including St Huberts, havec been able to introduce play leaders among children in each year group. “It’s fantastic to see our pupils taking on more responsibility and developing their communication skills among their peers,” says Hingley. “Pupils received training from Fit For Sport, with one of our year five pupils developing into a real young man with some excellent leadership skills, learning how to deal with minor confrontations in a calm way. Previously, he used to find this difficult but he is now a real asset.”

SHARED BENEFITS
Engage To Compete has been commissioned by Sport England in Tower Hamlets until August 2016 and the programme is available for schools and local authorities nationwide. In Sandwell, Fit For Sport has partnered with Sandwell Public Health to roll the programme out across all 97 primary schools. Called Sandwell Active Schools Programme, it will take place over the coming academic year.

According to Horridge, the benefits of the scheme extend beyond the lunch break – as well as the school gates. “The ETC programme has also built and developed key local relationships with providers and stakeholders to ‘bridge the gap’ between schools and leisure,” he says.

“Leisure providers have committed to the programme by allocating activity cards for children and offering free activities and taster sessions out of school and during holidays – as well as hosting legacy events. This has led to an increase in children using their facilities and being active during school holidays, which is obviously a great result for the schools and their partners.”

Engage To Compete

• 44 Primary schools took part during 2014-15

• 15,826 primary school children took part in some form of activity

• 5,377 pupils went on to take part in inter-school competitions

• Estimated cost per child per year for the school – £10.83

Dean Horridge,

CEO,

Fit For Sport

Dean Horridge
Dean Horridge

Where did the idea for the initiative come from?
We felt that there was – and still is – too much focus on sport during curriculum time, so we began looking at utilising the entire school day.

We identified lunch and break times as key periods to get children active and combat inactivity and knew that through our “train, support and deliver” model, lunchtime assistants could make a real impact. Traditionally lunch and break time assistants have been there to supervise children – so they have the perfect opportunity to become activators.

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