Case study: A living Olympic legacy

Written by: HTU | Published:

A year on from the London Olympics Nick Bannister revisits a Cornish school to find out how the leadership is not only keeping the Games’ legacy alive, but is spreading it far and wide

The London 2012 Olympics seemed to buoy the country along on a wave of intense optimism and excitement for a few short weeks last summer.

For most of us the London Games have become a fond memory but for several primary schools across the country the Games organisers’ ambition to create a true Olympic legacy seems to be a bright reality.

One primary school has become so involved in the Olympic legacy movement that headteacher Denise Gladwell has dramatically revised her retirement plans.

“I had planned to retire in 2013,” said Ms Gladwell, who is head of St Breock Primary School in Wadebridge, Cornwall. “But I’ve decided to stay until the Rio Games in 2016. I want to see how far our legacy work and sport in our school will reach and see what we can achieve locally, nationally and internationally.”

It seems that Ms Gladwell’s ambitions are already beginning to be fulfilled. The school’s Olympic legacy work is being driven by sports coach James Ross who has launched an initiative called “Keeping the Flame Alive”.

The school, which was heavily involved in the Get Set school participation programme in the run-up to the Games, has created seven replica Olympic batons, each engraved with an Olympics and Paralympics value, which include equality, inspiration, respect and friendship.

The hope is that the batons will spur each recipient school to continue with a legacy activity. Schools are being encouraged to share their legacy projects on the St Breock school website so that other schools can be inspired. More than 50 schools are on the waiting list to receive a baton. The aim is that all the schools – and more – will play host to a baton by the time the 2016 Rio Olympics open.

Ling Bob Junior, Infant and Nursery School in Halifax is one of the schools that has received a baton. Steve Tipton, ICT support officer at Ling Bob and a 2012 Games Maker volunteer, found out about the initiative when he met James Ross at an Olympic conference for schools that had participated in the Get Set programme.

Although Ling Bob has been whole-heartedly involved in the Olympics since last year – eight pupils forming a guard of honour for the United Arab Emirates Olympic team at the opening ceremony was one highlight – the baton has provided a focus for continuing Olympics-related activity, according to Mr Tipton.

“The values of the Olympics have been firmly embedded into the school way of life and having the baton has helped us to reinforce that,” he added. “It allows us to look at the values again and relate them wherever possible to everyday school life.”

The school arranged to take the baton – inscribed with the value “respect” – to Colegio International Meres, a primary school in Oviedo in northern Spain earlier this year. Ling Bob had a connection with the school in that a staff member had spent a year with them teaching Spanish.

The school raised funds to pay for the trip which involved Mr Tipton and two teaching colleagues accompanying six year 5 pupils to Spain. The party undertook additional studies to improve their Spanish language, their knowledge and understanding of the culture before their departure. They spent a day at the school, presenting the baton to pupils and explaining the story behind it.

They also toured Barcelona and visited the Olympic stadium, home of the 1992 Olympics. Once the baton has been returned to Ling Bob it will be handed to a local pupil referral unit before being sent on again.

Like the baton relay, it is clear that St Breock’s legacy work stretches far and wide. The school is also having an influence in policy-making circles, it seems. Ms Gladwell attended the House of Commons’ Education Select Committee in May to give evidence about the future of PE and sport in primary schools. She is also a member of the organising committee of the Cornwall Games and she is a Headteacher Ambassador for the Youth Sport Trust.

“Developing such an impetus to their Olympics legacy activity isn’t something that can just be done by anyone,” Ms Gladwell continued. “The key is to entrust a colleague who will have a passionate commitment to the role. James Ross has been instrumental in making things happen.

“We have been able look closely at PE and invest some time in it. The rewards reaped have been noticeable. For example there have been dramatic changes in the children’s swimming ability. We now have 99 per cent of our year 4, 5 and 6 children being able to swim at least 25 metres.”

The legacy baton relay initiative is not the only evidence of Olympics legacy at St Breock. Pupils now enjoy a much richer variety of sports at the school, including gig rowing, indoor rowing, bowls and climbing.

“We have one pupil who had never been on a rowing machine. The fourth time she sat on one she was competing in a competition in Plymouth and came fourth out of 396 children,” said Ms Gladwell. “It was by chance that we found out she was talented in rowing.

“It is not just about sport. The Olympic values are making their mark in the children’s academic work as well. We have done a lot of work on children achieving their personal best, no matter what subject. We want the children to carry on trying. The notion of achieving their personal best is helping us to develop our children as more engaged and eager learners.”

Mr Ross added: “The number of St Breock children getting involved in after-school activities has doubled since the Olympics. Of 120 key stage 2 pupils 80 of them are now regularly attending after-school activities – that’s up from 40 before the Olympics. Also we now see 95 per cent of our children are physically active outside of school hours.

“There is always a set of children who do not like PE but we don’t have this now. Those that aren’t sporty are now having a go. We offer a greater variety of sports now because I believe that there is a sport out there for every child.”

He added: “We are determined to create a legacy for London 2012, but you have got to want to make it happen. Just doing some activity for the period when the Olympics is on and then leaving it is not going to create a legacy. You have to keep doing it and making it happen.”

Earlier this year, the government unveiled a new sports funding package that it claimed would improve the quality of provision in every state primary school in England.

The package will provide a lump sum for each school, with a per-pupil top-up, meaning that a typical primary school with 250 primary aged pupils will receive £9,250 per year – equivalent of around two days a week of a primary teacher or a coach’s time. This will be enough to make sure every pupil in the school can do sport with a specialist, the government claims.

Ms Gladwell welcomes the funding but sounds a note of caution. “The funding is coming into primaries for a couple of years only so schools will have to spend it wisely and consider how its rewards can be enjoyed and maintained into the future.

“The new funding needs to be used to meet long-term goals with a built-in longevity. Schools will need to work collaboratively to assess local needs in terms of professional development, access to facilities for all and have a strategic plan. Schools should consider the merits of joining forces for the economies of scale and benefiting from the advice of organisations such as the Youth Sport Trust.

“Ofsted will be holding schools to account and we need to be able to evidence that the funding has made significant impact in the life opportunities of our children and therefore the future health of our nation.”

• Nick Bannister is a freelance education writer.

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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