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Changing mindsets: creating active schools

Peel Park Primary School teacher Ben Cunliffe blogs about implementing Bradford's Creating Active Schools framework and including non-traditional activities into his PE classes.

19th October 2021

by Ben Cunliffe
Primary school teacher and Creating Active Schools champion

As a young boy, I loved being active.  All I really wanted to do was put on one of my football kits and play out in the street or the nearby field with my friends.

If I wasn’t playing out with my friends, I’d be talking about or thinking about sport, maybe very occasionally playing on my Nintendo whilst I waited for the doorbell to ring to play out once again.

As I’ve got older, the love for physical activity hasn’t waned. The activity may have changed, but the love hasn’t.

I worry for the current generation that this is something that will be lost due to our obsession with technology and staying indoors due to what seems an endless number of social factors and barriers.

This is why I was so eager to be involved in the Creating Active Schools (CAS) framework.

Big ambitions

In the early stages of my time at Peel Park Primary, my main two aims were to overhaul the PE curriculum and to increase our participation in competitive sports. We achieved this very successfully and in a relatively short space of time – implementing a strong PE curriculum and strong competitive performances with opportunities to train during the school day.

If you loved sport, this was the school for you. That makes us an active school, right?

I worry for the current generation that this [love of physical activity] is something that will be lost due to our obsession with technology and staying indoors.

When the CAS framework was first produced, I attended a meeting where I arrived thinking we as a school were in a strong position.

I left realising we were ignoring the needs and wants of a reasonable percentage of the student population without even realising.

Just as I’ll never love art, many of our pupils will never love football, cricket, tennis, and I could go on.

What we can do is find opportunities and ways for every child to love being physically active. That’s why play and finding a way to move, that works for each child, is vital. 

This shift, from thinking about our provision in terms of PE and sport to a wider focus on positive experiences of physical activity across the school day, has opened up so many opportunities for our children and made our staff and wider stakeholders reflect on what’s important, too.

The CAS profile analysis - a series of questions to prompt thinking about your school’s policy, environments, stakeholders and opportunities - was really useful in further developing our thinking and future strategy.

This has been developed collaboratively with a number of our Bradford schools, and it was pleasing to see that our feedback was shaping the CAS toolkit.

Making a change

Our work using the CAS framework allowed us to open up a wealth of PA opportunities. Our pupil voice showed that children had a love for, or a want to, cycle but had limited or no opportunities to do this.

We therefore opened our own school Bike Library and we’re already inundated with rental requests.

It also made us think about how we structure the school day. Our breaks and lunches are now more active as they’re staggered, allowing all children to access our equipment freely and easily.

In addition to our ‘traditional PE’ lessons, we also have a ‘PA’ (physical activity) lesson which involves a total free choice for the children.

They can swing on the trees in the forest, go on the bikes and scooters, play on the monkey bars, play games with their friends with teachers joining in, whatever we can provide for them.

This shift from thinking about our provision in terms of PE and sport to a wider focus on positive experiences of physical activity across the school day, has opened up so many opportunities for our children.

We’ve also found this has improved participation in the ‘traditional PE’ from pupils who typically didn’t engage. A win, win!

What makes the CAS process so good is you're always learning and moving forward. The toolkit identifies areas for development quickly and in a non-onerous way, and I’m excited about how the new planning tool will support our long-term thinking.

However, this is not just an ‘audit tool’ - you are surrounded by people with the experience and capacity to help ensure that what we put in place for our children is based on the latest research and best practice.

The fact we’re also developing our own local expertise through the CAS champion network is fantastic – it’s about changing mindsets. As a CAS champion it doesn’t mean we are the best of the best, it just means we are championing a cause – to get every child active!

I was delighted to be appointed as one of eight champions across Bradford and have already learnt so much from other colleagues through our training and network meetings.

I’m looking forward to our next step on this journey to improving our pupils lives. The potential of this project as it expands, is huge.

I’m so excited to play a part in this, in both my work at Peel Park but also as a CAS champion supporting other schools find the best way to love being active every day.

Putting it into practice

Found out more about our new 'Putting it into practice' resources, detailing models and tools being used by places to tackle inactivity.

Putting it into practice resources

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