Eyes on the prize: Specialist officers are giving students a better experience of sport

When Kevin Hamblin took over as principal of Filton College in Bristol, only 14 students took part in any timetabled sporting activities and just one sports coach was employed on a part-time basis. "Those 14 did football on a Wednesday afternoon and there wasn't even a goalkeeper among them," says Hamblin.

Seven years on, there are 470 students who do at least eight hours of activity every week in one of 12 different sports academies at the college, ranging from basketball to table tennis and taekwondo. The college now employs 18 sports coaches, two physiotherapists, a biomechanist, two fitness consultants, a sports nutritionist and two dieticians – all on a full-time basis to support them.

The 470 are not all elite athletes. Just 70 are studying sport-related courses. The remainder are regular students taking A-levels, vocational programmes or other courses – such as learning to read and write. They do sport to keep active, be healthy, and have fun. The activity is timetabled to fit around their study, with most academy students spending three hours each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon taking part in their sport.

Filton College has become one of the leading colleges for sport in the country, yet it still has some way to go before it meets the government target set by Gordon Brown soon after he became Prime Minister – requiring half of all college students aged 16-19 to have three hours of PE, activity or volunteering per week by 2011.

To put things in perspective, of the 2,000 full-time teenagers at Filton, less than one-quarter is currently involved in the sports academy programme. Another 450 or so are involved in performing arts, dance and cadet activities. But that still leaves more than half not doing the required three hours a week. "At this age there are other things competing for their time," says Hamblin. "They need to spend their evenings and weekends studying or doing part-time jobs, and sport is the luxury that gets dropped. But if the activity can be undertaken during the academic week, the student can train and compete and at 5pm can be a normal person."

This is why the Government is right to put pressure on colleges, which have the potential to play a key role in improving the fitness of the nation, says Hamblin. "Government research has shown that 70 per cent of students stop playing sport between 14 and 17. We hope to reverse that trend. If they are active during the 16 to 19 phase they are more likely to be an active adult."

Hamblin, who is also chair of the Principals Sports Strategy Group of the Association of Colleges, believes further education should be developed as a pathway for elite athletes, particularly with the London Olympics in 2012 in mind. "But you don't have to study sport to play sport," he adds. "The soft skills required – being reliable, working as part of a team, being a good communicator, working within set rules, and being flexible – are the transferable skills employers are looking for."

In order for colleges to meet the Prime Minister's target, the Government has provided funding so all 363 further education colleges in England could have a sports co-ordinator, (or FESCo) , in place by January 2009. So far, 270 have one. Redbridge College in East London believes their FESCo – cricket coach Kevin Foster, who was taken on in September and works two days a week on developing sports – is already responsible for a dramatic change. "I would say only around 10 per cent of our students were doing three hours of activity a week," says Stephen Peacock, Redbridge's curriculum manager for sport, travel and tourism. "It wasn't part of our agenda and there was no funding for it."

Today, basketball, five-a-side football, fitness training and cricket have been added to the enrichment programme, and there are plans to add badminton and table tennis.

"We have to change the attitude of 16-year-olds who have had bad experiences of sport at school and convince them that it does help them develop socially and physically and will be of benefit to them in the future," says Peacock.

One way in which colleges are igniting the interest of students is through quirky or less well-known sports such as surfing, golf and equestrian sports. Hartpury College in Gloucester has employed a recreational sports officer, who promotes sport within the college and makes sure students know that every evening of the week, they can play practically every sport you can think of.

"One of the key things we do is capture students at freshers' week, ensuring there are different stalls for each recreational activity at the Freshers' Fair and ensuring that the people on those stalls are the most enthusiastic staff," says Chris Chrichton, sports facilities manager at the college.

For those that discover sporting talent and want to take it further, they can. Hartpury's rugby team is only three leagues away from national league rugby, and train six days a week. Two years ago, Exeter College was the first educational institution from the state sector to win a major rugby competition. "In the past, it had always been won by the independent sector," says Principal Richard Atkins. "That was really motivating and confidence-boosting for our students."

Atkins says the entire culture of colleges feels different as a result of the emphasis on sport. "You see students wearing sports clothing such as tracksuits or clothing with sports logos on far more than in the past. They like being associated with sport," he says.

Crucially, Hamblin says students appear to be getting better grades.

"We are an education institution and we use sport to attract students, to retain them and to get them to achieve. Our A-level students who are in the sports academies outperform those who are not in academies. At our inspection in 2003 we were rated a satisfactory college. In 2007 we were rated good. I think sport played a role in achieving that one grade increase."

'Basketball provides them with strong role models'

School leavers at risk of dropping out of education, employment and training are being lured into learning by the 12 sports academies set up at Filton College. Danny James, the director of basketball, says his academy is having particular success in attracting Afro-Caribbean youngsters who are likely to drop out of education at 16.

"Basketball has been booming in Bristol and our academy has 55 students aged 16 to 19, and two 20-year-olds studying sports science. One who started out on a basic level 1 course has won a scholarship to Worcester University and is playing at a professional level.

Another, who started on level 1, has completed a level 3 (A-level equivalent) in sports science and is working on a community project delivering healthy lifestyles to primary school children.

Basketball provides them with very strong role models, keeps them in education and on the straight and narrow."

'This is all about re-engaging people'

Graeme Atkinson, who used to be a professional footballer, has been appointed FESCo at Myerscough College in Lancashire to engage the 3,000 students not on sports related courses in sporting activities.

Myerscough already had an international reputation for its specialist sports provision in football, golf, cricket, rugby, and equestrian events, and attracts students from Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, and Greece. But Atkinson's aim is to increase the number of students who were not previously interested in sport.

He comments, "I've done a number of things from putting ads on student bulletin boards to ensuring that areas like the sports hall and aerobics studio are available to put on engaging activities at convenient times. One thing that's been particularly popular is putting on archery classes in the evenings. It might not be a physical activity, but it's an Olympic sport and it can help people to feel good at an activity again. This is all about re-engaging people."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Nurse and Room Leader - Hackney

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a qualified childcare p...


£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: THE SCHOOL: This is a large and vibra...

AER Teachers: EYFS Teacher

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: EYFS TEACHERAn 'Outstanding' Primary ...


£27000 - £40000 per annum: AER Teachers: YEAR 3 TEACHER - PREPARATORY SCHOOLA ...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones