Thursday, March 28, 2013

Schools at Heart of Active Nation, by Professor Laura McAllister

In her latest blog, as the Sport Wales School Sport Survey goes live,Professor Laura McAllister talks about how schools in Wales form such a vital part of our sporting future.

The 2013 School Sport Survey went live yesterday and we are eagerly anticipating an even greater response than that seen in 2011.

A record number of responses were gained in 2011, with the details of 40,000 youngsters captured, making it the largest ever survey of school pupils in Wales.

At the time, this was extremely encouraging.  Local authorities and schools were able to use the data to insight developments and changes, from which we have since seen improved opportunities for youngsters to lead more active and healthy lifestyles.

This said, there were however, also many local authorities and schools who did not achieve the sufficient response rates to gain appropriate data from the survey.

In these cases, it is a fair question for us to ask: how does an organisation plan to grow, resource and invest successfully without a detailed picture of what the sporting landscape looks like for young people as a starting point?

It is for this reason, that this year we must raise the response rate and ensure that every child stands to benefit from the wealth of knowledge that can be gained from this survey.  If we do this, we are one step closer to making Wales world leading in school sport.

It is our vision at Sport Wales to get every child hooked on sport for life.  This is not only to build a future nation of sporting champions to carry on the great feats being achieved by the likes of Becky James and Elinor Barker, our Six Nations Rugby squad, or our numerous football teams (Swansea City winning the League Cup, Wrexham bringing home the FA Trophy, the hopeful promotion of Cardiff City and Newport County, alongside the recent success seen by the national team) but also to create healthier and more active future generations.

Young people who have the skills and confidence to participate in sport and physical activity, who are provided with a variety of engaging sporting experiences that combine elements of competitiveness and fun, delivered by motivating people will result in them participating in regular, physical activity for the rest of their lives.

To ensure that we are achieving this and that the correct improvements and developments can be made, it is vital that we gain feedback from our younger generations, to acquire an accurate account of school sport from their perspective, and also from those currently in charge of managing school sport.

The greatest value of the 2013 School Sport Survey will be in allowing us to make considerable headway in building this understanding of what is happening on the ground, alongside understanding pupils’ attitudes towards sport and physical recreation. 

It will be vital to informing the decisions we at Sport Wales make on planning and resources, it should also therefore be utilised as the valuable resource it is to inform the decisions that our partners make within these areas.

We have seen hugely encouraging developments from individual schools who have managed to use the 2011 school sport survey data to improve levels of learner engagement in sport, to successfully target groups previously excluded from sport, to share resources and infrastructure to provide a more comprehensive and appealing offering of sport and to generally improve participation levels. 

All of which would not have progressed without the clear starting point that the 2011 data provided.  We want to see more of this progress emerging from the 2013 data.  Schools are at the heart of an active nation and every school will be urged to look at making sport a priority area in the future. 

As many of you will know the Joint Ministerial Task and Finish Group is very soon due to report recommendations on how to develop sporting skills and increase the sporting opportunities for children within schools. 

I have argued within the Task and Finish group that we have been charged by our Ministers for Education and Sport to discharge the Government’s commitment to ensuring that physical literacy is equal to reading and writing in our schools. The group will need to consider exactly how that might be delivered and how we alter the status and profile of PE within the national curriculum to award it the same status as that of numeracy and literacy.

In both cases, participation in the school sport survey could provide the first positive step for a school in the process to gain data that will become invaluable in planning how to attain these recommendations.  Recommendations which consequently could put Wales as world leaders in school sport.

It must also not be forgotten that Estyn have for the first time agreed to recognise that data from the School Sport Survey can contribute to a school’s self-evaluation arrangements.  This again recognising how the survey can inform strategic and improvement plans, helping schools to focus on their priorities for development.

I have identified schools as being at the heart of an active nation.  Our vision of getting every child hooked on sport for life would not however be possible without the significant role also played by local authorities.

In 2011, local authorities performed an important and influential role in encouraging schools to complete the survey.  The ability of individual authorities to marry the efforts of both sport and leisure with education departments, to support schools in the completion of the survey, resulted in a return of data which has also resulted in significant improvements at a county level.

I am pleased to have seen evidence where local authorities who were able to gain data in 2011, have been able to identify and address gaps in participation, unite schools and clubs to ensure resources and equipment are shared to create additional opportunities and also to ensure that extracurricular activities being offered outside of schools are meeting the needs of youngsters.

This last point is crucial.  We cannot expect a child to fully commit to a sport that is not available to them outside of school. Local authorities need to therefore ensure that the correct sporting opportunities are also available outside of school for youngsters to progress into.  Data from the survey can provide a great amount of insight into this area to ensure that plans are put in place to develop the required areas.

I cannot foresee a situation in which the data provided by the 2013 school sport survey would not become an extremely invaluable tool for all of those involved in helping to shape the future sporting landscape of Wales.  We all hopefully by now recognise the importance of physical literacy, and getting every child hooked on sport for life, so let’s work together to push Wales as a world leader in terms of providing sporting opportunities for its youngsters.