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The Centre of Excellence ripple effect

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Posted 29th June 2023

Following the announcement of Parkinson Lane Community Primary School as the sixth Centre of Excellence for Physical Activity, our Education lead, Alex, reflects on the initiative as a whole so far.

A number of years ago, the Centre of Excellence used to celebrate those schools that were spending the PE and sport premium money effectively and sustainably. Schools could then share their learning with others across the nine districts that we serve. That support is still going on and supporting schools to create a legacy using the premium funding is a common thread that runs through our work in education.

In 2019, when the Creating Active Schools (CAS) framework was co-designed in Yorkshire, it was on the basis that a new approach was needed to create organisational change within schools and encourage senior leaders to prioritise physical activity, more.

That’s why, when I took up this role in 2020, I wanted to strengthen the message behind the framework that was driving our work in education. I started to look for the synergies between a Centre of Excellence programme and raising awareness of behaviour change and strategic thinking around physical activity, which is what CAS advocates and supports schools to do.

The purpose was not just to highlight the many different way schools can get children active before, after and during the school day, but also how they can use their premium money to do that in an effective way. So it’s still taking the principles and ethos of the previous Centre of Excellence, and reframing it in line with the CAS framework.

We’ve seen schools become accredited in a number of ways. Parkinson Lane  – the most recently accredited school – applied off their own back, and went through the process of an online application form; an online interview and then a half-day visit to see the practice in action, which led to their accreditation.

In other instances, one of our partners within a district have connected us with a school that is excelling in one of the opportunity areas, and that leads to those discussions.  Also, we work with a number of schools on a fairly consistent basis, so if we feel a school is doing something particularly well then we’ll often approach them.

One of the benefits to a school is that we raise their profile and bring them out of their bubble onto a cross-platform where schools from other districts can see the work that is taking place.  That’s not financially driven, so they are doing it because they are wanting to raise their profile and influence other schools for the greater good, which is really positive.

With the way we work, there have been lots of opportunities to share that practice, through conferences or visiting a PE network meeting in another district.  We’ve seen schools go and visit Universities to speak to the PGCE students to influence trainees and the future culture of the profession. We’ve seen open door visits where headteachers and PE leads are visiting schools and taking it back to their own school. And that’s not been facilitated by us in terms of advertising an open afternoon at a school. It has been very organic and natural through the connections and platform we’ve given them and schools are getting together independently, which is a wonderful point to get to.

One of the highlights for me has been opening up these schools to the national Active Partnerships network. When we’re on a webinar and a school in inner-city Huddersfield or Barnsley is talking to schools in Sussex about what they’re doing, I just love that.

Seeing the journey some of the schools go on is great, too. Birkby Infant and Nursery School, a setting in one of our priority areas in Kirklees ,have taken up the opportunities to speak at conferences and I’ve seen them get better and better at delivering their messages. Now they’re speaking in front of Universities and PE networks. It’s nice to know that not only are we sharing their practice with other schools, but we’re developing the workforce because there are two teachers there telling me that they’ve loved it, and are growing in confidence as a result. Quote from Paula about how the C of E has developed her/her colleagues/ and raised profile a year down the line?

In terms of where this can go, there are some really important things to consider. We need a good spread between the seven opportunity areas of the CAS framework, and that’s a priority working with partners. Also, to make sure there’s a good representation across the nine districts. It’s wonderful that schools go across districts to learn, but they also like to know what’s going on just down the road.  Then there’s the actual environments and settings themselves. We need to try and identify a variety of those with good facilities and those who are also getting children active creatively with the limitations they have.

Finally, we need to be looking at alternative providers and specialist schools and what the Centre of Excellence can mean for them too. We’re speaking with Disability Sport Yorkshire and consulting with specialists within SEND to get an idea of what that might look like.

On the back of what we’re seeing from the six schools accredited so far, I’m really excited about the ripple effect that can be created as we identify more and more Centres of Excellence across our districts.

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