Sport at the heart of education

Written by: Tom Donohoe | Published:

Tom Donohoe’s school is known as ‘the PE school’. He reflects on why their extensive sports provision and support for other schools in this area is so important to them

“Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.” William James

I was recently introduced by a colleague to another headteacher from a different part of Hampshire and she greeted me by saying: “You are the head of the PE school.” I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted!

Anton definitely is known for our PE provision, but I would very much like to think that we are about more than this one subject. Like any school, we have particular curricular strengths as well as areas for improvement, but without a doubt PE is an established strength.

So why have we developed our PE so strongly and placed such an emphasis on it? There are the obvious physical benefits in terms of improved co-ordination, balance and agility – physical fitness levels can also be improved too but only if the lessons require children to be physically active for significant periods.

Over the years I have seen far too many PE lessons where the children spend long periods of time inactive, listening to the teacher. Now clearly PE is not just about getting kids active, but if they are not active in PE, where in the curriculum can we fight obesity?! As well as the physical benefits, I am convinced that a well-planned PE programme can also foster and develop important attitudinal values, such as resilience, determination, co-operation and perseverance.

I also believe that a good PE programme can have a positive impact on the way a school is perceived in the local community. I have seen how parents in particular value PE and sport and use it as one of the measures by which they judge the quality of a school.

I know that parents are very appreciative of the fact that staff happily and willingly run after-school clubs. One of the main aims of our PE provision is to try to encourage life-long participation in sporting activity.

We have a number of strategies we use. First, we have made strong links with a range of local sports clubs and they send coaches into school to lead taster sessions. Second, we provide a unit of PE for each year group which has a bit of a “wow” factor. For example, year 3 go trampolining and year 5 do climbing, abseiling and water sports as part of their curriculum.

By giving opportunities to try activities different from the traditional we have successfully hooked a range of children into sport.

In addition, we also organise an after-school club called simply Multisports, to which we invite children who do not consider themselves sporty (teachers use simple assessments to identify kids who struggle with PE). We have found that after a few months in this invitation-only club, children display a completely different attitude to sport.

Subject knowledge for non-specialists can be a real issue in the primary school and we are one of only 10 providers in the country leading a primary PE specialist teacher training course that the government has introduced.

Furthermore, more than 450 schools have accessed 10 years’ of our PE planning that we make freely available on our website. This includes hundreds of lesson plans written by our PE specialists for non-specialists, and countless photocards that support teachers’ subject knowledge, particularly with gymnastics. If you would like to make use of these resources, email my superb PE coordinator Jodie Williams (

As a child at primary school I didn’t find maths and English easy, I couldn’t draw or paint, I had no interest in history, but I lived to be active. I came alive when we did gymnastics in the hall. My love of sport started in primary school and continued through my teenage years. I ran my first marathon at 15 and have never really looked back. It would be great if all schools give their pupils the opportunity to find their second wind!

  • Tom Donohoe is the headteacher of Anton Junior School in Hampshire.

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