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Headmaster’s Blog

Maintaining a Strong Sports Programme in the Face of a Pandemic

11 May 2021

Anybody who knows the Oratory Prep School knows that sport has a special place in the life of the school for all standards of player.  The first experience you get is a slow drive past the Lodge pitch, which at this time of year looks like a bowling green with stripes that the Lords ground staff would be proud of. You can hear the sound of leather on willow coming from the other side of the road in the walled garden, a spectacular venue for a match or practise. These features at the entrance to the school remind us daily of the opportunities that exist here.

This summer we have started playing block fixtures again. The first Saturday of the term saw a host of teams travel between here and Lambrook. Whilst it felt like a very normal start to the summer term, we had to remind ourselves that the last cricket matches schools could play in this way were in Summer 2019. It felt like we were in hibernation in the period in between but the reality is that sport has continued to thrive, even with the challenges of the pandemic.

Despite the restrictions of the last year, the children have already excelled in sports this season with a combination of boys cricket, girls cricket and mixed cricket. Many of the U10 teams that played against Lambrook contained boys and girls. One of our Year 7 girls is among the top bowlers in the school. Another of our girls who left last year captained her senior school U14 ‘boys’ team last week too. The senior girls are eager to build on the 1st XI’s unbeaten season with seven girls representing the Berkshire Cricket County Team throughout the term in the summer of 2019. The parity of provision and the achievements of boys and girls is a sign of a healthy co-education environment.

In PE last term, pupils enjoyed the challenge of Gymnastics and how they can use their bodies to create shapes when balancing on the beams & jumping off the trampolines. In normal times, gymnastics is also an after school activity and has been a module within the Saturday Enrichment Programme. A former teacher at Kennylands Gymnastics heads up gymnastics. It is great we have been able to develop the skills of our athletes over the course of this year.

During last term, boys and girls from Years 5-8 were able to participate in a larger minor sports programme with all of the pupils taking part in each sport including events in Swimming, Six-a-side Football, Girls Rugby 7s, Dodgeball, Mixed Hockey, Mixed Touch Rugby and Ultimate Frisbee. This programme of minor sports builds on the success of our major sports programme. Having a broad sports provision has helped maintain the interest in sport despite the lack of matches. House games can always compensate!

Normally we compete in all the IAPS national cups from U11 to U13 and also local tournaments to stretch our A team sportswomen and also ensure our other girls have fixtures to promote the sport for all standards of player. Last Michaelmas term, the girls in Years 3-8 enjoyed every aspect of Hockey, from ‘Passing with Power’ to ‘Dribbling Dynamos’, from ‘Goal Scoring Machines’ to ‘Deadly Defending’. All the girls achieved certificates in the HOPS Challenges where they were competing against the clock.

To develop an understanding of Hockey even more, girls in Year 5-8 took on the role of Hockey Umpire in games sessions and Jo Day, our Head of Girls’ Sport, designed modules as part of the Saturday Enrichment Programme around skills development. Jo Day [Ellis] is the Head Coach at Reading Hockey Club and former Olympian. She also coaches our 1st VII and our elite hockey group that train once a week as part of our activity programme. In the last two years, the unbeaten girls hockey first team reached the last 8 for IAPS hockey in 2020. Plenty of these girls have gone on to play for Reading Hockey Club which continues to perform at the highest level in youth ranks. Her skills and knowledge this year have been an excellent complement to our brilliant Director of Sport, Lee Chaffey.

Regardless of ability and whether competitive or just for fun, swimming in our beginners and 25 metre pool forms part of the curriculum for all and is also an after school activity. It brings so much happiness to our pupils and to other local groups as well as parents and families which has been sorely missed during the pandemic. It has been fantastic to see swimmers as young as 8 years old arriving for swim squad at 7.15 in the morning, followed by a full breakfast before school starts. Swim squad training led to fourteen of our pupils qualifying for ISAPS during 2020 but of course all the galas were cancelled due to the pandemic. Many of our swimmers train at County level and compete in competitive galas. Our 25 metre pool will be the arena for the first leg of the annual school triathlon later in the term. Having this facility has been so welcome under the restraints of this year.

Last term in Lockdown, I was struck by the dedication of my Games staff. Walking past classrooms, dining halls, dance studios and the Sports Hall I saw staff in front of laptops and chromebooks broadcasting gym sessions and challenges to hordes of students online at home. Phrases like ‘completing the 1000 rep challenge’ or ‘running all the way to Brighton’ became commonplace as the games coaches virtually looked after the fitness and wellbeing of pupils across the school.

As we come out of lockdown our pupils are already hitting the ground running and throwing themselves into our summer term sporting programme! It is great to lead a school where sport and games continue, whatever the challenges.