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Academy at St. James awarded Centre of Excellence Status

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Posted 11th May 2022

The Academy at St. James in Bradford is the first school to be awarded status as a Centre of Excellence for Physical Activity by Yorkshire Sport Foundation. 

The Allerton primary school has been recognised for ‘Whole School Practice and Ethos’, due to prioritising physical activity as a way of driving whole school improvement, linking the school’s policies and routines to enhance academic achievement and improve areas such as physical and mental health of their pupils.  

Additionally, the school has also been accredited for its work in ‘Physical Education’. This is one of seven opportunities aligned to the pioneering Creating Active Schools framework, devised in Yorkshire in July 2018.   

It is not the first recognition the school has received for its work to provide opportunities for children to move more, having recently been named Active School of the Year at the annual Active Bradford Sports Awards. 

The school has revolutionised their PE, school sport and physical activity opportunities in recent years, informed by data on children’s activity levels provided by Born in Bradford.  Their ‘Physically Active Enrichment’ session represents a dedicated approach to embedding positive physical activity behaviours and ensures every child within key stage 1 and 2 receives one hour of protected physical activity time every Friday afternoon. This session is in line with the PE curriculum and provides experiences which may not be accessible to children and their families beyond the school day.  Sessions have included fencing, archery and snooker. 

Pupils receive attendance rewards which are consistently linked to physical activity opportunities in an outdoor learning space. Forest School sessions are delivered four times per week consisting of experiences which involve connecting with nature, teaching fire lighting and cooking skills, den building, safe tool use and visits to local green spaces. Sessions are specifically targeted at the most inactive pupils, and those with specific social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs. 

They have designed their own bespoke PE curriculum, informed by the latest PE research and teaching approaches, and allowing for a progressive skills-based approach. 

The school will share their approach with other schools locally and across the wider region to provide best practice to others so that as many children as possible have the chance to receive high quality opportunities to be active. 

Chris Tolson, Headteacher, commented: “I am really proud of the work we have done on developing a whole school ethos and approach to physical activity and PE over the last two years. It was important to develop a holistic approach, understand the context of our school in terms of current health concerns and then develop a strategic plan to support our children and the wider community.

“The development of a well structured and excellent PE curriculum in conjunction with developing a whole school approach to physical activity has really supported our children in terms of emotional and social development. Our ‘active enrichment session’ ensures the whole school finishes on a Friday in a positive way and also provided some CPD for teachers aswell as stressing the importance keeping active and healthy as we go into the weekend.

“In addition to this our Forest School programme and the development of our outside ground through working with Nature Friendly Schools and a parent volunteer have provided a space for children to learn, grow and develop their love of learning outside.

“As a school leader I felt it was really important to not only make time for physical activity but also to celebrate the benefits of this approach. Our attainment in school at the end of Key Stage 2 is now above national average and our progress for reading in 2021 put is in line with the top 5% of schools nationally. In essence, our approach has supported our children to make even better progress in their basic skills whilst simultaneously improving their physical health and well being. I am really proud of the work we have done and will continue to do.”

Niall O’Brien, PE, Physical Activity and Outdoor Learning lead:  “We are thrilled to receive our recognised status as a Centre of Excellence for Physical Activity. This has been front and centre of our agenda since writing the school development plan back in January 2020. Our aim initially was to use the Creating Active Schools framework as a model to begin to introduce real behaviour change in terms of the culture surrounding PE and Physical Activity within our school community.

“Our offer is something we are incredibly proud of; we now have broad PE curriculum, dedicated physical development sessions in EYFS, Forest Schools and Active Enrichment. This has been pivotal in allowing us to provide positive early experiences surrounding all things physical and mental health.” 

Alex Ogden, PE, School Sport and Physical Activity Manager at Yorkshire Sport Foundation, added: “A huge congratulations to the Academy at St. James for this recognition. 

“The school has come a long way in a relatively short period of time, and is now one of the leaders in this area not only in Bradford, but across West Yorkshire and the region as a whole.  We know school-to-school learning is one of the most effective ways of these practices becoming embedded in schools more widely, and we look forward to providing that opportunity for schools wherever they are on their journey in this area. 

“While this is about how schools do things, the people to benefit are the pupils, their families and the staff. The evidence shows the physical and mental health benefits of moving more, and the positive impact it can have on behaviour and attainment.”  

Status as a Centre of Excellence for Physical Activity is awarded for two years, at which point it will be reviewed and, if successful, renewed for a further two years. 

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