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Spotlight on: Junior School sport

Spotlight on: Junior School sport

Physical Education (PE), sports and general fitness are intrinsic parts of our well-being and thus play a huge part in the daily life of our school. PE is not only about participating in teacher-led lessons, but is about exploring and growing as a person too through overcoming challenges and taking risks. Lessons focus on a wide range of skills, from learning to throw a bean bag in Reception, to using skills and logic in climbing trees, being spatially aware, aiming at a target and scoring a goal in team matches.

At St Mary’s Junior School, Cambridge we take into account all aspects of physical education and hope to instil a lifelong passion for sport in each child. As PE is a practical subject, the Advanced Cognitive Performance characteristics (ACPs) of High Performance Learning (HPL) are applicable: meta-thinking, linking, analysing, creating and realising are rooted in the way the girls learn, and are demonstrated in the girls’ sports outcomes every week.

We encourage risk taking where appropriate, providing a safe and comfortable environment, either on a court or in the gym, for the girls to try something that they might usually feel unsure about. Everyone is encouraged to attempt to shoot goals, to try unfamiliar positions on a court, or to focus on a difficult gymnastic skill: initially, with the support from a teacher, so that, with practice, the risk dissipates. Once confident with a newly developed skill, the children are encouraged to challenge themselves further and to take more risks so that their confidence is further built up.

On the athletics pitch there are plenty of opportunities to take risks and learn new and exciting disciplines. One would never know whether they can excel in something unless they try it and so we encourage the girls to try the discus, high jump or hurdles for the first time. Very soon the pride they feel in thinking ‘I did it’ is etched on their faces.

Some of the girls progress from Pre-prep to Prep with little previous experience of swimming. They quickly develop water confidence and are taught basic stroke techniques so that they enjoy the challenge of learning to swim, their confidence is boosted, and a sense of achievement week on week is palpable. By the time the girls reach Year 6, they will have developed into more confident swimmers who have improved both their technique and stamina, and are prepared for the challenge of swimming in the inter-house gala and perhaps a local gala.

Children’s confidence will will grow if we provide them with the tools and encouragement to feel safe in their exploration. A group of Year 1 pupils practising gymnastics recently showed a remarkable sense of pride among the group, especially when they were able to share their progress with each other. This group experience gives the girls a platform to learn from others and extend their skills further.  By Year 6, a number of girls will participate in the Senior School gymnastics display – taking place on Wednesday 7 February, from 6.30pm to 7.45pm at the Senior School, we would encourage parents to support the girls as they showcase their skills.

Similarly, on the netball court, the Pre-prep girls are initially taught ball skills with a number of softer resources such as beanbags, soft balls or tennis balls. This builds confidence and eventually the girls are happy to play with match netballs without being intimidated. As difficulty levels increase, the girls sometimes swap their enthusiastic ‘I can do it’ proclamations for ‘this is hard!’ – but it really is hard to catch a tennis ball when your hand-eye co-ordination has not yet fully developed! Having the confidence to draw on previously mastered skills in a safe and rewarding environment, however, means that the new skill is soon mastered. 

We place substantial emphasis on encouraging a strong work ethic in our pupils. It is well known to all adults that practising can improve performance: this mindset can be paralleled across all subjects but is, arguably, most evident in practical subjects such as PE. We encourage practice through our club programme and we actively encourage perseverance and determination throughout our Junior School Creative Curriculum.

Many of our top athletes have achieved at a high level through sheer hard work, as opposed to  natural flare or innate talents. Hard work and perseverance does not go unnoticed and we reward high achievers with personal recommendations in assemblies and photos on the sports board and, for those girls at the very top level, Sports Colours.

These three attributes – risk taking, confidence and perseverance – are incorporated into our teaching style and are just a few of the HPL attitudes that we adopt when teaching sport. The girls often display traits of HPL without realising they are doing so which, as teachers of very young pupils, we highlight to them, so that they understand it will be those traits that are most likely to help them achieve high standards.