Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

Going the extra mile

Going the extra mile

No, I’m not going to talk about GCSE league tables. We issued press releases: there’s text on the website; and I even got a chance to say my piece on BBC News 24 last night. The title of today’s blog is that of OFSTED’s 2014 report subtitled “Excellence in Competitive School Sport”. I’m reminded of it though it was published last year, because our Director of Sport, Angela Ponton, is speaking at a conference about that very theme today.

The OFSTED report is a curious document. Some of its tone is distinctly grumpy about the fact that independent schools appear to do sport so well: and then there is displeasure that “despite state schools educating 86-93% of the population … they only produce about two thirds of élite sports people across a range of disciplines”.

Yes, politically we’re a problem again – because we’re doing so well, producing 41% of Great Britain’s 2012 Olympians. I’ll leave that there.

What intrigued me most about the report was, however, that it really did understand the kind of ethos that inhabits independent schools in general and the RGS in particular. The overall comment included the following:

  • The resources put into competitive sport by these independent schools have a considerable influence on the success that they achieve. School leaders invest in first-class sports facilities, teams of specialist teachers, expert coaches and support staff. However, success is not just a result of spending money.
  • These schools give ample time within the curriculum (and outside it) for students to play regular, competitive sport. Games afternoons, often up to two hours, enable staff to teach and coach sport in-depth and prepare teams for competitive play. They also enable students to play competitive fixtures during school time.

Well, that covers most of the points that I want to make. Schools like the RGS really do make the big commitment to sport. So are we all sport-mad? Is that all that’s valued? Are we back in some old Dark Age where the only students honoured in the school are those who happen to play in the rugby 1st XV? 

Certainly not. We’ve moved on. It’s far more sophisticated than that: but it’s still important. 

For us the whole point is that our sport is part of the total commitment to excellence, of doing the best we can in everything. But that doesn’t mean just running a few élite teams. On the contrary, participation is all. For a start, if you want to make your pyramid higher, you need a wider base: but even that’s still rather selfishly only about results. The whole point is that competitive sport brings with it so many other learning experiences, including dealing with failure (which RGS students probably find more frequently in the rigours of a sports fixture than they do in the classroom), of trying and succeeding, and of keeping fit! Sport really does produce all those things, competition, a demand for resilience, teamwork, fitness. Oh, and a lot of fun.

That’s why we make such a commitment to it. But that commitment is not just about resources: indeed, the report was careful to say the fact. It may seem a bit of a cheek for me to be making that pronouncement, when we’re about to complete a magnificent new sports facility. But the commitment and the excellence came first: the new building will help us to take them further.

The report complains that some schools don’t have swimming pools. I wish all were as fortunate as we are, not only having a rather elderly one but about to open a brand new one! But you can still be an excellent sporting school without a pool: you just have to find other things to do. If you haven’t got an astroturf pitch nowadays, you’ll have a job to play hockey: but you can still play football, netball or whatever needs a tarmacked or grass surface. Failing that, pupils could all just become expert cross-country runners!

I’m not being flippant. We want to offer breadth of opportunity as well as depth of challenge, and that’s why we do invest in resources: but those resources are people as well as facilities. The report acknowledges that, too:

“In all these schools, there was a strong sporting ethos and culture based on the sustained commitment of school leaders and teachers to provide the ideal conditions for students to practise, train for and take part in competitive sport. 

“A variety of other interlocking elements underpinned sporting success in these independent schools. Investment in excellent sports facilities and effective coaching staff is a key component. However, the expectations placed on students and staff to participate in competitive sport is also crucial in delivering success. …  There was a strong recognition of the wider benefits of competitive school sports in building school culture and identity, ensuring academic achievement and developing well-rounded individuals. Sporting success was aspired to and celebrated.” 

And, on the subject of participation: 

“A key factor in the success of the independent schools visited was the expectation that all students compete in sport and represent the school and they fielded multiple teams to enable this”. 

The RGS wasn’t one of the schools that OFSTED visited: but according to the descriptions, it could have been. As we say of so much of RGS life, in our sport our students make the big commitment, train hard and achieve high standards, indeed surprising themselves with what they achieve. 

RGS students emulate the example of their teachers in readily “going the extra mile”.

They have a lot of fun too. That is the RGS way. 

Bernard Trafford

Headmaster