Teaching effective, high quality sport

Written by: HTU | Published:

How can school leaders support their teachers to lead PE effectively and to ensure that their pupils experience high quality PE? Headteacher Tom Donohoe offers his strategies and advice

I cannot have been the only headteacher moved by the success of our Olympians this summer.

As a PE specialist from my teacher training more than 20 years ago, I have always had an active interest in encouraging children to participate in sport.

Indeed my current school, Anton Junior, where I have been headteacher for the last 10 years, has a reputation in Hampshire as being keen to participate in any sporting activity available.

You may have been one of the schools that used our freely available Olympic Planning Resource that my teachers worked hard to produce. In the six months leading up to the 2012 Games, the Olympic section of our school website had more than 33,000 hits and we received hundreds of emails from across UK and the world.

After the success of our sporting heroes this summer, the focus will once again be on schools to provide opportunities for children to follow in the footsteps of our Olympians.

The question is what are we doing to ensure that our youngsters receive high quality PE lessons in the primary school curriculum? Additionally, what sporting activities are we providing that will foster a love of sport that children will retain into their adult life?

My aim has always been to provide PE opportunities for children to participate in and enjoy and while I am keen to ensure that the most able are given the chance to compete at the highest level, my priority has always been on participation over elitism.

I am fortunate to have a number of teachers on my staff who have a strength in sport and I was able to support one young teacher, Jodie Williams, in her successful application to work as a PE advanced skills teacher (AST) across our local authority.

Jodie has had an incredibly positive impact in a huge number of schools and although ASTs will cease to exist next Easter, I am optimistic that she will be able to continue to support school sport in one guise or another.

The fact that Jodie has been in such high demand by so many schools is an indication that there are a high proportion of primary teachers who acknowledge that they could use support, advice, training and resources to improve their teaching of PE.

This view has been reinforced by a study that Jodie has undertaken as part of her Master’s dissertation. She focused on initial teacher training (ITT) and the way in which it prepares new teachers to specifically deliver lessons in PE.

Although relatively small-scale, Jodie’s findings were worrying. There were 12 trainee teachers who were interviewed about their readiness to teach PE, both as a result of their ITT programme and their experience in schools. The study looked at all the traditional routes into teaching including BA.Ed, PGCE and GTP.

All the trainees had concerns about teaching gymnastics and dance and most seemed slightly more content to lead games lessons. On average, the trainee teachers only received between six and nine hours of PE tuition during their course. This was intended to leave them ready to lead their class in what most students felt was a challenging subject to teach.

So I would like us to consider how we as headteachers can help and support our teachers to lead PE effectively and ensure that our pupils experience high quality PE. While we are by no means perfect here at Anton, we have worked hard and are confident in our PE provision; the week of PE training that we provide for PGCE students from a local university each year certainly receives very positive feedback. Here are some of the strategies that have worked in our school and some of the planning we have produced.

Friday afternoon displays

A strengths and weaknesses audit with our staff identified gymnastics as the main area of training needed for our teachers. As a PE specialist I was able to work alongside the subject co-ordinator to produce user-friendly unit plans for each year group. These plans were for blocked gymnastics units – five afternoons of gym so that children in each class were participating in gym every afternoon for a week, culminating in simple gym displays on the Friday.

Whole-school training to put the plans into practice was arranged during a couple of after-school twilights. Also, in the first year of this initiative we offered teachers the chance to have their gym either taught for them or to team-teach it with an experienced colleague. Our aim was to set teachers up to succeed so that there was no reason for the initiative to fail. I also wanted to hold teachers to account as I suspected that in the past some teachers would find reasons to not teach PE.

By having the Friday afternoon displays in the diary, it ensured that each class would have to share their work. The first year we did the displays to other classes, but since then we have invited the parents of that class to watch their children perform. These dates are issued at the start of the year and have now become a tradition.

Spreading best practice

The year after, our gymnastics planning was “purchased” off us by a number of schools (for the cost of one day’s supply). Since we have had an AST on our staff we want as many schools as possible to benefit, so we now make it freely available to any teacher, headteacher or school (more details at the end).

The resource includes a five-day unit plan for each of the four junior year groups and we have recently produced plans for key stage 1. These lessons do not have to be taught in one week in the blocked way described above, you could use the traditional weekly lesson, but schools that have adopted the blocked method have reported a significant improvement in the quality of the gymnastics.

Key to the resource are the photocards – these show our pupils demonstrating balances, agilities etc, and have accompanying notes outlining the key teaching points of each skill. While these are useful for teachers, we also encourage the children to make use of them.

The pack includes notes on setting up the gymnastic area, the use of gymnastic apparatus and the importance of demonstrations.

We have our blocked gym weeks in the spring term each year and we have subsequently produced more planning units for our key stage 2 classes to use in the autumn, these are also available. Remember that each local authority has different views on teaching inversion activities. Your teachers may need to attend a course before they can teach handstands, forward rolls, etc.

Dance Days

Following on from the success of our gym weeks, a few years ago we introduced “Dance Days” for each class. Again we have produced planning that is designed to be used by non-specialists and which produce effective little dance sequences for each class to perform at the end of the day.

The dance units we have planned link to topics covered in the traditional primary curriculum and through her AST role, when a topic has been requested that we do not have existing planning for, Jodie will work with colleagues to produce a plan in this area. Currently we have planning units including Space, Monsters & Dragons, Egyptians, Water, and Street Dance.

Each class has a dance day each term and parents are invited to all three during the year. Giving the parents the dates at the start of the year ensures high attendance and if I am honest does hold the teachers to account.

Physical Activity (PA)

Our daily PA sessions have also proved popular with our pupils. Every class has the opportunity to do a daily 10-minute PA session and generally classes will do this three or four-times each week. These sessions vary from dance and circuits to step-aerobics and hula-hooping.

We have tried to keep things simple so that teachers find it straight-forward – for example, we purchased DVDs to accompany the step-aerobic sessions. We have found that the fitness levels of our pupils has increased rapidly as a result of the sessions and teachers tell me that the kids concentrate better, as they break-off from lessons, take off jumpers and shoes, do a 10-minute bout of activity before moving back to the classroom for the next lesson.

Games planning

We are currently in the process of rewriting our games-planning as our teachers are more confident with this area of PE. At Anton, we love to involve ourselves in competitive sport – if there is a local or county competition going on, the more children we are able to enter the happier we are.

We acknowledge that not every child in, for example, football club will be selected to represent the school in matches locally, so we arrange games against C and D teams so that less able but equally enthusiastic children get these opportunities. Additionally for the last few years we have been running regular “house tournaments” in basketball, rugby, football, hockey and netball and every child in the school is involved.

Staff commitment

I was recently talking to a head who wanted a sportier ethos in his school. He was critical of staff for not being prepared to run after-school clubs. I am fortunate that every teacher at Anton runs a club and when interviewing I ask candidates what club they would run and why they think extra-curricular provision is important.

This head, however, said he was too busy to run a club himself. As heads, if we think it is important to provide extra-curricular activities then we need to commit to this. I have run clubs in football, gymnastics, athletics and netball and currently I share a couple of clubs with staff, so that if I do have to miss a session the club does not have to be cancelled.

Health and safety

We have tried to arrange a programme of activities for our pupils where they are able to play in the outdoors and take calculated risks in a fairly controlled environment. Heads are probably all familiar with Forest Schools activities, but suffice to say that I love leading our year 3 children in their termly Forest School days at a local farm, whose woodland we are able to use for free.

Our residential programme has built up over a period of years, in consultation with pupils and parents. We now have a residential trip in all four year groups – a one-night camp for year 3 at the woodland, an adventure trip to the Isle of Wight in year 4, a residential on a farm/study centre in Devon in year 5, and an activity week in the New Forest for year 6.

Sport Education

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of Sport Education it may be worth your PE co-ordinator checking it out. Put simply it is about children running sport for their peers and it is a very interesting experience.

By having one unit of Sport Education in each year group it gives teachers the opportunity to provide leadership roles for their pupils. My AST meets 20 of these children from across the school one night a week in her “Leadership Club”. These children organise events for our pupils as well as for children in other schools – most successfully for pupils in an excellent local school that caters for children with severe learning difficulties.

Local clubs

So, how does primary PE fit in with the sports opportunities offered by local clubs? We are very keen to forge strong links with good local clubs and will regularly invite some into school to do a special session with our kids, with our teachers present. We have also organised what Jodie calls “Wow Sessions” – where children get to take part in a programme (normally four to six hours) in a sport that they have probably not tried before, such as trampolining in year 3 and kayaking in year 5.

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

Further information

If you are interested in the planning resources mentioned, write to Anton Junior School stating which area you are interested in and they will provide the planning resources free of charge. Write to Jodie Williams, Anton Junior School, Barlows Lane, Andover, Hants, SP11 7AT.

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