For those who are gifted and talented in PE and sports, a support programme can give them the maximum opportunity to succeed. Godfrey Hall speaks to head of PE, Craig Fletcher, at Bucklers Mead School in Yeovil about theirs

A progressive and forward thinking establishment, Bucklers Mead School is situated on the outskirts of the town of Yeovil in Somerset. Head of PE at the school is Craig Fletcher, a dynamic and experienced teacher who over the past few years has been involved in the National Gifted and Talented Scheme.

In a department of over five teachers and a schools sports coordinator (SSCO) – assigned to develop partnership with a local sports colleges and primary feeder schools – Craig has worked hard to improve the quality and performance of both students and staff.

Started back in September 2003, this programme is supported by the Sports Council and Sport England. Dedicated to improving the range and quality of teaching, coaching and learning for pupils, it is designed to raise attainment levels, motivation and self-esteem, it includes:

  • a support programme for the implementation of a schools sports partnership
  • national performance camps for elite athletes
  • web-based resources
  • a school-based profiling and tracking scheme
  • pilot development programmes to coordinate a multi agency approach to the development of talented and gifted pupils.

The national programme, which has now been running for four years, has had a major impact on PE and educational establishments throughout the country.

Over this period schools have been encouraged to:

  • use clear criteria to identify talented pupils, particularly those who have potential or are underachieving
  • give greater emphasis to the evaluation of gifted students
  • raise teachers’ expectations of talented pupils
  • establish challenging targets for those who are gifted
  • evaluate the benefit of extra-curricular and out-of-school provision.

Designed to bring out the best in students, it usually highlights around six to 10 pupils per year group looking to develop:

  • intellect
  • physical and cognitive ability
  • social skills.

Craig says of the gifted and talented programme: “We identify as many students as we professionally think are suitable. These are then given the maximum opportunity to succeed. We select children as they join the school for the first time and so out of 200 new intake students we might get six to 10 who may be gifted and talented in some sport.”

Bucklers Mead currently has a potential Olympic standard high jumper, a young professional footballer and a rugby player.

These three students will, through the gifted and talented scheme, be supported by local clubs and given specialist coaching as well as being helped with their day-to-day schooling.

Whilst in its infancy at Bucklers Mead, the gifted and talented process is seen as a very positive way of building confidence and leadership skills.

How are the students chosen?
This is carried out as part of the local partnership involving Yeovil College and Millfield School at special leadership days and multiskilled events. Both Yeovil and Millfield have organised several of these days when students have been assessed. The college also has a junior athlete education programme, when selected Year 10 students are enrolled in special workshops on subjects such as healthy diets and how to deal with the pressures of training. Over 1,000 students from various primary schools attended a recent talent identification event at Millfield. This event proved very useful in identifying prospective ability.

Currently, under the gifted and talented programme, there is a 50/50 split between boys and girls but in practice most candidates seem to be male as there tends to be more opportunities for them.

All sports are considered but often the problem is the following up afterwards. Students can struggle for ‘exit routes’ and local clubs are not always forthcoming with their facilities or expertise and so the situation can be rather patchy. For example, a local Yeovil boy now trains at Plymouth over 100 miles away while another with athletic ability uses local facilities.

Hockey and netball are two sports that can also find sponsorship difficult, as there a very few centres of excellence. In many cases it is down to the amount of money that is put into the scheme by the governing bodies of the various sports. The RFU, for example, on the back of the Rugby World Cup realised that to maintain their status they would need to put more coaches into schools and the community. Bucklers Mead have benefited from this in that they now have a rugby coach coming into the school on a regular basis.

Craig goes on: “Even with all the selection procedures I have had students who have been overlooked. The underlying feature of the programme, however, is that it is multiskilled and so we are looking for all-rounders. If you are talented sportsperson you will need to have a number of different skills and it is important that these are developed mainly in Year 8 and 9. The door is open to every sport but the present climate means that schools are still struggling to provide help for the lesser known activities. This is because governing bodies cannot provide the required facilities. If, for example, we might have a good hockey or netball player we have to rely on local amateur clubs for their support.”

He continues: “It is all very good identifying the gifted and talented pupils but from a PE point of view all we can do is teach them the skills we know. Our problem is that we are PE teachers which means we have got to be jack of all trades. What we really need are the services of experts. A specialist coach will not only provide support for the pupils but also give a great deal to the staff. Funding provides for coaching but there is never enough.”

Support from local businesses
On the question of sponsorship there has been some support from supermarket chains such as Tesco and Sainsburys under voucher schemes, which provide equipment for schools. Craig, with the help of pupils, parents and staff has bought plenty of items, preferring to do this rather than using the vouchers for coaching time which can be expensive. Local businesses have also been very supportive including the Western Gazette and Yeovil College who have both provided money for recent trophies. A number of other local businesses have also shown a keen interest in becoming involved.

Talented students in Year 8 and 10 who have shown certain abilities have been supported by the school and in particular the athlete and footballer have been encouraged to extend their abilities.
Both students are very low key and currently being educated to be good leaders and have the confidence to be aware of their capabilities.

In Year 9 the school also have some top quality female football players but unfortunately there are very few exit routes for them.

While the programme is ideal for developing students’ talents, it is a great shame that there seems to be little or no support for many of the minority sports which often feature in the Commonwealth and Olympic Games.

Over the past few years a large number of these, such as badminton and curling, have become more and more popular as youngsters take up the challenge.

The gifted and talented programme does, however, provide an opportunity for strong links with the local community and it is good that forward thinking schools such as Bucklers Mead have been able to build on this, providing links between themselves, primary feeder schools and neighbouring businesses.

High quality gifted and talented education draws on and extends the knowledge and skills that effectively underpin PE teaching. In so doing it provides teachers with an exciting challenge and helps motivate students of all abilities.

Jon Burton, Buckler’s Mead assistant head and coordinator of activities and events for gifted and talented students across the school, says: “We are committed to providing a wide range of experiences which challenge our most able students in all subjects. Other curriculum areas in the school are learning a lot from the approach the PE department is making.”

A shining example of good practice, the school is yet again making an impact on the area demonstrating how new ideas can
be adapted to local needs.

Godfrey Hall is a freelance journalist