0 David Ross shows how to put sport at the heart of schools

When the Government finally publishes its New Strategy for Sport next week, attention will inevitably linger on whether the likes of the Football Association, the Rugby Football Union and the England and Wales Cricket Board face being stripped of some of their exchequer funding.

Photo Christopher PledgerAfter all, it was the alarming slump in sports participation since the Olympics that led sports minister Tracey Crouch to vow this summer to "rip up" the Department for Culture, Media & Sport's existing blueprint, which has seen millions in taxpayers' money ploughed into governing bodies via Sport England.

However, blaming Britain's inactivity epidemic on those responsible for getting people aged 14 upwards playing more sport misses a root cause of the problem and one of the biggest flaws with the current strategy: that of sports provision within schools.
It is beyond dispute that children's experience of physical education in school is among the biggest factors in determining whether they are turned off sport once they reach adulthood.

Yet, there are still shocking variations in the quality of sports provision within the state sector, where physical literacy has all too often been sacrificed at the altar of exam results.

The irony is that this may not only be ineffective, it may also be counterproductive, with a growing body of evidence indicating a correlation between time devoted to PE and improvements in academic attainment.

That has certainly been the experience of one of the UK's largest multi-academy trusts, which has dramatically increased not only the number of pupils playing sport in its secondary schools, but has done so while improving their exam grades.

Now, the David Ross Education Trust - which has gone from running two schools five years ago to 33 today - wants the Government to roll out its blueprint across the country, having made a formal submission during the consultation period for the new sports strategy.

Set up by Ross, the Carphone Warehouse co-founder and Conservative Party donor, DRET puts sport at the very heart of its schools, many of which are situated in some of the most deprived areas of the country.

Inside Sport has visited three of them in recent weeks, each of which varies in size, standard of facilities, and the number of pupils, but which nevertheless manages to adhere to the same trust-wide ethos.

Havelock Academy in Grimsby, the town where Ross's grandfather established a fishery empire, was the first school taken over by the 50-year-old in 2007. In the eight years since, it has gone from being placed in 'special measures' by Ofsted to being graded a 'good' school, the second-highest rating awarded by the inspection body. Success off the field has been fuelled by that on it, according to staff and pupils for whom sport has become an essential part of daily life.

It has been a similar story at Lodge Park Academy in Corby and Charles Read Academy in Grantham, where remarkable increases in the numbers of sporting fixtures and pupils participating have also corresponded with improvements in exam results, as well as attendance and behaviour.

Having a billionaire benefactor has undoubtedly helped but DRET's success appears more down to creative use of resources rather than throwing money at a problem. That includes the recruitment at each school of a £15,000-a-year sport enrichment officer, usually a university graduate with a sports background employed solely to enable and promote sport within the school.

Then there is the setting aside of time within the school day and after school for organised sport to take place, without eating into curriculum time, often by cutting short lunch breaks or form periods.

Seconding staff from other departments to administer sessions is another strategy, which rather than increasing the burden on already-overworked teachers actually seems to provide them with a welcome release, as well as bringing them closer to their pupils.

Among the methods used to inspire and incentivise children to participate are visits and coaching by sports stars past and present and subsidised trips to major events - including last year's Commonwealth Games and England football and rugby internationals.

Each school also has its own sporting identity - in Havelock's case 'The Hawks' - which the pupils are allowed to create to give them an even greater sense of belonging. They then compete against other academies in the trust at the so-called Summer and Winter Cups, while the most talented pupils from across the trust become 'DRET All-Stars', who tour the UK and beyond.

That is not just in traditional school sports like football and netball but those such as rowing - where DRET pupils have become among the best in the country - and badminton, with children actively encouraged to pursue their own passions from the moment they arrive.

Ross and the staff at his academies were all adamant the model is transferable, scalable and - ultimately - financially sustainable. We will find out next week whether the Government agrees.

For the full article, visit www.telegraph.co.uk.

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