After a year of home schooling and social distancing, sport represents a unique challenge. How will we get up and running with a new-normal after lockdown?

As the winner of the Sporting Achievement award in the 2020 Independent Schools of the Year Awards, Hurstpierpoint College set a great example of how to resume sport in schools after lockdown. Director of Sport, Rob Kift tells us what measures they put in place after returning from the last lockdown.

How did you encourage the school to stay as active as possible?  

This has always been our intention. Before the pandemic our programme sought to engage every student both in terms of participation and performance. After the first lockdown, we made it a priority for our pupils to be outside in the fresh air. We had to be creative with what we offered and how we utilised our facilities to their best advantage, for example we were playing cricket throughout the winter months using our new bank of outdoor cricket nets, which all of the students really enjoyed.   

How did you keep up a sporting routine? 

This was a real challenge, but we have very good facilities and a passionate team of coaches who were very creative and adaptable. The requirement for pupils to be in year group bubbles added to the problem but we overcame this with the introduction of temporary facilities such as a golf driving range and a marquee to house aerobics and spin classes.  

“Most pupils have mobile phones so we urge them to aim for 10,000 steps as a daily target.”

Is there anything else you had to do differently? 

Social distancing and sanitising equipment were two obvious adaptations last year and we swiftly established a thorough routine to deliver sport in a Covid-safe way. We scheduled weekly meetings to review our provision, often centred around new government advice and national governing body regulations.

Were you able to play matches against other schools last year? 

We didn’t play fixtures against other schools, but we remain optimistic that we will again at some point this year. Although we could have potentially played some sporting fixtures last year, the sentiment was to try to keep the school functioning in as safe an environment as possible. We organised more house competitions and intramural fixtures, which were received most enthusiastically by the pupils.

How did the pupils adapt to the changes? 

To their credit, our pupils adapted very quickly to the ‘new-normal’, but inevitably they will need reminding of our in-house rules around social distancing, washing hands and the like once they’re allowed back together. As a department we have been keen to liaise very closely with our parent body and encourage them to reinforce our stance on the importance of physical activity. We have asked the pupils to show resilience in the inclement weather and to keep their activity levels up. Most pupils have mobile phones so we urge them to aim for 10,000 steps as a daily target.

Hilary Blake, Head Teacher at Sacred Heart, Wadhurst explains the changes they had to make last year

How did you encourage the school to stay as active as possible?

As we went into the first lockdown, we were finalising plans for the installation of a Multi Use Games Area (MUGA) at Sacred Heart, reflecting the high profile of sport here, and our ambition to offer even more in the future. With the MUGA in place, the children could go outside for every playtime and PE lesson, whatever the weather.

How did you keep a sporting routine going? 

At a time when many aspects of school life were restricted, we prioritised PE within the curriculum and after school too. Although swimming was still off the menu last term, the children were able to participate in a range of sports from Lacrosse to football. They have boundless energy and are always eager to be challenged.

Is there anything you had to do differently? 

In keeping with government guidance, separate activities were arranged for each ‘bubble’; equipment was restricted for use within bubbles or sanitised after use if shared, and pupils washed or sanitised their hands before and after lessons and playtimes. What at first seemed complicated soon became second nature.

How did pupils adapt to the changes? 

As is often the case, the children were very quick to adapt – as long as they had sport and playtimes they were eager to comply! They were used to additional handwashing, cleaning and hygiene measures within the classroom; so continuing that into the outside space was a logical extension.

Were you able to play matches against other schools last year? 

No, but we did train hard and were booking provisional fixtures – as soon as restrictions are lifted, we will be match ready! We are extending our fixtures list to include Year 4 this year as well as Years 5 and 6. 

How have pupils who attend external sports clubs in their own time been affected? 

The temporary closure of external clubs was a big disappointment for some pupils. We all know how important exercise and being outside is for our mental health and children are no exception.

Sporting Stars

When it comes to sport it really helps to have a heritage of great former students to look up to

The New Beacon School is immensely proud of its cricketing heritage, and rightly so. 

With a history spanning over one hundred years, an archive photograph shows Siegfried and Hamo Sassoon in the 1st XI after they won the West Kent Prep Schools League Cup in 1901. Skip forward to the present day, and The New Beacon has celebrated its success at regional and national competitions. The U11 XI has reached the final of the Kent Summers Cup every year this century, winning for the last nine consecutive years (bar 2020 with no play!). The U12 team regularly wins regional tournaments taking them through to national competition at 13+ often playing against grammar schools selecting from at least four times as many players. 

Two former pupils hit the headlines last summer, playing for Kent County Cricket Club and England. Sam Billings  left The New Beacon in 2004 for Haileybury College with an all-rounder scholarship. He played regularly for Kent from 2014, becoming captain in 2018. Sam played his first ODI and Twenty20 games for England against New Zealand in 2015. He made his first international ODI century this summer against Australia finding more success with the bat and is a wicketkeeper-in-waiting for England. Sam returned to The New Beacon four years ago to give an inspiring coaching session to the boys and to present a bat to one of the pupils who had scored a century in a 1st XI match. 

Zak Crawley left The New Beacon in 2011, moving to that famous cricketing school, Tonbridge, with a Cowdrey sports scholarship. He had captained The New Beacon side which was runner up to Millfield in the national final in 2011. He played for Kent from age 13 and made his senior debut in 2017. At The New Beacon, Zak was known for his precision and focus on technique with the bat, something which has clearly catapulted him to top of the order in the England test team. A highlight this summer for all cricket lovers was witnessing Zak’s 267 against Pakistan – the second highest maiden test century ever for England. 

While the school celebrates the success of these extraordinarily talented former pupils competing at international level, cricket is enjoyed by all at The New Beacon. The school often fields 4 or 5 teams in each year group. 58 boys (aged from 9-13) are members of local cricket clubs, notably Holmesdale and The Sevenoaks Vine. Twenty are playing district cricket, with two at Invicta and one on the Kent pathway. 

Sadly, last summer term not a ball was bowled – by a team which had the potential to reach the national finals once again. In the absence of cricket, the original 1900 pavilion was refurbished in preparation for next season.

Speaking Sense

Mike Piercy, education consultant and former Head of The New Beacon, turns language pupil A favourite word: smellfungus. A favourite book: The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (two weighty tomes). A favourite pursuit: looking up a word, getting distracted by other,...

Perfect Pitch

Mike Piercy, education consultant and former Head of The New Beacon, sings the praises of music in education What exactly is it that drives parents to make huge sacrifices by sending their children to independent schools? Different families have different...

‘It’s not fair!’

Mike Piercy, education consultant and former Head of The New Beacon, explains the importance of winning and losing with good grace The beefy second row lay prone, groaning, as the pack lumbered away. “Get up, Darling!” I cried. Opposition spectators...