The importance of sport in education

Ann Haydon

Leading educator and Principal of Surbiton High School since January 2008, Ann Haydon is committed to inspiring, encouraging and empowering young people. Formerly Deputy Headmistress at Guilford High School, Surbiton’s sister school in United Learning, Ann has received a distinction in The Pearson Award for Head teacher of the Year 2013 (in a secondary school in London & the South East). Ann holds both a BSc (Hons) degree in Economics & Geography and a NPQH from the Institute of Education.

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Sport provides children with much more than stronger and fitter bodies. Sport can help to engender a healthy body image, in a generation that we are only too aware is under a lot of pressure to be a certain shape and size. I believe that sport also has a huge impact on positive self-esteem.

Surbiton High School has a very clear goal – Sport for All, coupled with the Pursuit of Excellence. The school believes that pupils who regularly compete in sport carry their commitment from the sports pitch or court into the examination hall by applying the personal qualities of self-discipline, resilience, commitment and hard work to their academic studies. Surbiton High’s vision combines regular participation in sport with a professional approach to generating elite sporting performance so pupils can ‘be the best they can be’.

To realise this vision, sport is taken seriously. The school invests in expert coaches and first-class facilities. The Director of Sport leads a team of fourteen PE staff, including an administrator to organise fixtures and transport. Surbiton High School has identified its ‘Super Six Sports’ - netball, hockey, gymnastics, rowing, tennis and skiing - and has appointed a Head of Sport to lead in each discipline. This has produced a team of dedicated specialists whose objective is to foster wider participation at foundation level and detail a clear path to elite performance for those with aspirations. Surbiton High School set clear expectations of winning, and hold Heads of Sport accountable for students’ sporting achievements.

The Heads of Sport are exceptional role models who set high expectations. Their specialist skills and strategy knowledge is being cascaded through the PE department. In rowing, elite students are expected to dedicate up 12 hours each week to training. In tennis, students in Year 7 are expected to practise between 12 to 14 hours each week. The Head of netball tells her students, ‘your academic work comes first, netball is second, the rest of your life is third’ to emphasise the commitment and dedication she expects from them. The head of hockey promotes ‘SHS’, sweat, humility and swagger, to encourage pupils to work hard, understand others but also be much more confident about their abilities.

Pupils are constantly reminded to ‘believe in yourselves and never ever give up’.

Learning in PE lessons is reinforced by practice sessions before, during and after school, enabling pupils to study one or more of the six selected sports in-depth and prepare fully for regional and national competitions. Regular house competitions and weekend sports fixtures played at A, B, C, D, E and F team level; give pupils of all abilities the opportunity to play competitive sport for their school.

These activities are viewed as the co-curricular, rather than an extra-curricular activity, and students are expected to engage fully in them. Surbiton High School’s staff believe the lessons being learnt from sport – effort and reward, discipline and teamwork, success and failure – are noticeably improving other areas of our pupils’ lives.

As part of their commitment to sport in education, Surbiton High School ensure their pupils are provided with high level mentors such as Andy Triggs Hodge MBE, who is on their Board of Governors, Chemmy Alcott, who is a former Surbiton High pupil and was Britain’s No 1 female alpine skier until her recent retirement and Dan Bloxham, who is Head coach at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon.

Dan Bloxham is also Master of Ceremonies for the professional and highly regarded event that is the Wimbledon Championships. An advocate of the sports pyramid employed by Surbiton High School, Dan also supports the role of sport in nurturing confidence, social skills, ambition, teamwork and the ability to deal with setbacks. He has coached many school pupils and is a strong believer in the values and skills which sport can generate.

Andy Triggs Hodge MBE is a double Olympic Gold medallist and triple World Champion in one of the toughest sports out there. His success in the field of rowing, and his approach to the sport, embodies the values that Surbiton High School aspire to in their own vision. Andy is absolutely passionate about the importance of teamwork where, in rowing, it probably matters more than anything else. The commitment of the individuals to work together for the common good is the difference between success and failure, and this is an attitude that is very relevant in the workplace.

Whilst Andy is an example of an elite athlete, it is essential that schools offer sport at every level of ability. Surbiton High School put this into practice by the use of a sports pyramid which supports and identifies talent, unlocks interests and encourages participation.


At Foundation Level, all pupils enter the curriculum PE pyramid, regardless of ability or talent, so they can decide what sports they are interested in. The next step is the Participation Stage, which is when those who choose to attend clubs and training will be selected to represent the school in their given sport. These levels run from A to F team giving any pupil the opportunity to participate in a competitive sport. The next step is Performance Level which is for children who are naturally talented and have a keen desire to achieve in sport at A/B squad level; are sports scholars and may well represent their borough or county. At the peak of the pyramid is Excellence in Sport, for pupils competing on a national or international level. They are monitored by dedicated staff to ensure that the school helps them to balance their sporting and academic successes.

With this approach and commitment to sport across all abilities and ages has come success. For the last four years Surbiton High School have swept the board at the National Schools Gymnastics Competition and British Schools’ Ski championships. They are county champions at hockey, cross country and netball and Borough champions in all ages at trampolining, athletics, netball and rounders. Surbiton High School also have 18 pupils competing at County level, 18 at National level and 14 pupils who compete as part of a GB squad.

Darcie Mead, the youngest ever British National Champion in downhill skiing is a great example of a Surbiton High School pupil who has been nurtured in her own unique strength, while also being supported with a flexible learning schedule. The same applies to Year 8 pupil, Hannah, who is British Junior Gymnastics Champion.

The presence in the school of a high number of athletes, who are performing at the highest level, in such a competitive environment, without sacrificing their academic ambitions, is a fantastic example to the rest of the school.

Surbiton High School’s pupils benefit greatly from the passion and commitment that the elite performers demonstrate on a day to day basis; and they are all extremely proud and respectful of their achievements. As the elite sports students strive to excel in sport and in the classroom, with support every step of the way, the attitude and determination they show rubs off in the classroom and in the sporting arena across all pupils. The halo effect is beneficial to everyone involved in the school.

However, it is not just about the elite who are at the tip of the pyramid. It’s about the majority of pupils who can participate in sport on a regular basis. Former Surbiton High School pupil and sports professional Chemmy Alcott understands the academic demands on our pupils, and how sport can help to promote self-confidence and a better performance in the classroom and in exams.

During her skiing career, Chemmy has battled many highs and lows. A very talented youngster, Chemmy not only shone in skiing but in tennis and hockey as well. Aged twelve, she broke her neck in a skiing accident, from which she made a full recovery and went on to become the country’s top downhill skier.

As an expert in an individual sport which relies totally on one’s own performance on the day, Chemmy learned from her experience the importance of dedication and dogged determination in the eyes of success and adversity. This attitude and approach shone through when she achieved 4 As at A level in spite of her demanding and time-consuming training regime as she believed in her ability to do as well in the classroom as she could on the slopes.

Andy and Chemmy are examples of the importance of teamwork, dedication, determination and dealing with adversity in achieving your goals. They are of course elite athletes, but these attributes and attitudes, learned and applied in the good times and the bad, are ones that pupils can develop and benefit from through the opportunity to play sport at any level.

It has often been said “It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part”. None of the sports professionals on the Surbiton High School team could be winners without a highly competitive edge, and they wouldn’t have brought home the silverware if they didn’t want to win more than anything else. Should it be about the taking part and forgetting about who is the winner? Surbiton High School’s view is that there is a balance between the two and that competitiveness means different things to different people. For Chemmy and Andy it’s about the winning at all costs. For others it’s about doing your best and being proud of your achievement whether that’s coming first or last.

Educators and parents want their pupils and children to do their best and respect themselves for their efforts. The experience of winning the trophy will be etched in their memories, captured on film, pushed out through social media, celebrating with their teammates and fellow pupils and staff and recognised at home. It will demonstrate the result of hard work, competitive spirit, teamwork and ambition, all qualities that are vital to academic success and in life.

If they don’t win the silverware, then students will reflect on the reasons why, recognise that they did their best or maybe they could have trained more. They will identify the reasons for failure and accept that there is someone out there who is better or more determined to succeed. These are qualities that will help students to achieve their highest potential in other areas.

Competition for places in further education and jobs is fierce and Surbiton High School believe that pupils that have a strong sense of self-worth and empowerment will be best prepared for life and all its opportunities and challenges.

Surbiton High School’s Vision for Sport is central to their ambition to Inspire, Encourage and Empower. They measure success on the wellbeing of their pupils, their achievements and their results.

In the recent Ofsted report, Surbiton High School is reported to have a challenging and ambitious environment, where high quality school sport thrives. Standards are very high. Investing in sport has put in place the right conditions for students to participate and to excel in sport. Students understand the expectations of them and enjoy the challenge. They say that, ‘team spirit shines through because there is lots of encouragement and everyone including senior teachers wants us to do well.’


Michael Jordan, the famous basketball player once said, “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”

Surbiton High School’s question to you is, are you giving your pupils a sporting chance to make it happen?

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