March 2012 issue

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Sporting traditions

With superb locations, top-class facilities and rich traditions, sports are very much part of the attraction of British independent secondary schools, as Matthew Knott discovers.

Sports are an integral part of life at UK independent schools, as Ellesmere College’s Suzanne Bellis attests, “[We take] sport very seriously – sport is for all pupils, participating for the sheer joy that being part of something bigger can bring – no matter what level they perform or participate at.” With this ethos, some of the finest facilities around and a pedigree of producing international standard athletes, overseas students will find a wealth of opportunities to match their interests.

A sport synonymous with the UK is equestrianism and St Leonards-Mayfield School, an independent Catholic girls’ school in East Sussex, has, according to Tim Eaton, “an exceptional reputation in equestrian sport – show jumping, dressage and eventing – and has won the National Schools Equestrian Association Championship on seven occasions in the last 15 years”. Riding is considered part of the curriculum, “This goes some way to explaining why the school produces such good riders: because the pupils are able to train during the school day,” opines Eaton. Facilities include an Olympic-sized all-weather riding arena and a professionally built country course.

Based in York, Queen Ethelburga’s College is another equestrian centre, where, advises Lesley Hitchen, you can bring your own horse or adopt one from the school. As well as indoor and outdoor arenas and cross country circuit courses, she highlights top quality stabling, farriers’ and vets’ areas, and equestrian study areas. “Most weekends our students compete in and attend regional and national events,” she enthuses. Equestrian offerings are particularly popular with German students, says Hitchen, and Eaton concurs, also listing French, Belgian and Spanish students as enthusiastic participants.

Golf is another sport associated with the UK, and on the doorstep of St Andrews Golf Course, St Leonards School is in a unique location. “St Andrews is internationally renowned in the world of golf and golfing opportunities at St Leonards are incomparable,” says Isabel Myles, Head of Sport. “Our planned programme of golf tuition, combined with some of the finest facilities to be found anywhere, means that St Leonards pupils receive the best possible golf experience.” Myles adds that everybody has the chance to play and has access “at incredibly low cost” to the seven St Andrews links courses, including the world famous Old Course. Students can benefit from tailored programmes with PGA coaches, says Myles. The school’s Graeme Mutch explains that their location is an obvious draw for students from Europe and further afield, but also stresses the breadth and flexibility of their sporting options.

Ellesmere College, based in Shropshire, offers a range of sports including its five academies: rugby, tennis, cricket, shooting and the titans – an elite development swimming programme. According to Bellis, in the last five years Ellemerians have achieved international recognition in numerous sports.

“We field in excess of 90 teams who compete at inter-school, county and national level,” exclaims Emily Norris at the Essex-based Brentwood School. The school has excelled at many sports, not least being football with ten boys currently attached to professional football academies and alumni including the Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard. Additionally, “Brentwood School has dominated British Fencing for many years and are extremely pleased to be the reigning Public Schools Champions,” says Norris. Brentwood’s excellence in this field has seen it chosen as an Olympic training venue (see box).

There are several ways that sports can be integrated into a student’s daily life. For most schools, sport is an active part of the curriculum, with more offered in a range of extra curricular activities. At St Leonards, Myles boasts, “Sport is available here seven days a week. There’s as much as you want to take part in.” At Queen Ethelburga’s, a love of sports can be intertwined with study in the BTEC qualification in sports available to sixth form students.

Another increasingly common aspect of sports provision is the invitation of experts into schools to deliver specialist lessons. St Leonards-Mayfield welcome coaches of the Great Britain Equestrian team to provide master classes in riding technique, while Queen Ethelburga’s hold weekly academies with professional coaches and players from Leeds Carnegie rugby and netball clubs and Leeds United Football Club. Hitchen says these academies have proved very popular.

For recruitment, Eaton lists alumni, student fairs, b2b workshops and recruitment trips as favoured methods, but places great emphasis on maintaining good agent reationships. “It’s all about having a close working partnership. I have a small number of agents who fit that description – if a referral comes through them, I know it will be an excellent student.”

Olympic standard facilities

The world’s sporting gaze is firmly fixed on the UK as the 2012 Olympics nears and many UK independent schools boast some enviable facilities. Brentwood School has been selected as one of 18 official nation-wide training venues for the London games, providing facilities for four of the five modern pentathlon events: épée fencing, pistol shooting, 200-metre freestyle swimming and the three-kilometre cross country run. London 2012 Chairman, Lord Coe, says, “These are first-rate venues that will provide excellent training facilities for athletes getting ready for the biggest sporting competition in their careers.” At Queen Ethelburga’s College, Lesley Hitchen lauds the state-of-the-art facilities. “We have invested millions of pounds in our sports facilities – tens of millions if you combine the new gym and lab facilities, the all-weather facilities, the swimming complex, and the Genesis Centre with its indoor halls and activity centre.”

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