As principal of Truro and Penwith College, I have witnessed on a day-to-day basis the value sport and physical activity has in maintaining and supporting both the physical and mental wellbeing of our students and staff.
A recent study on youth sport from the University of Birmingham revealed that young people have been hit by a lack of exercise and competition due to the pandemic and lockdown. Nearly 80 per cent of parents surveyed said their child’s social health and wellbeing had decreased.
That’s why I think it’s really important to support the Association of Colleges' Sport’s Student Health campaign, which reiterates to colleges just how vital it is to keep students active for their wider wellbeing. Before lockdown, we saw the real, tangible benefits of investing in an extensive sports academy structure that provided the opportunity for competitive sport at all levels. It also helped to develop the wider personal skills of leadership, teamwork and communication. The college currently has over 600 students engaged in sports academies and this has enhanced the student experience significantly.
Background: Why post-16 needs a match-fit sport strategy
The current challenges our academy programmes are facing post lockdown have been greatly supported by the sport’s national governing bodies. Transition programmes like the Game in a Bag initiative from the England Colleges Rugby Union, for example, will help students back to playing competitive rugby again.
As we put together the college’s reopening plans, I was keen to ensure sport and practical-based activity were considered in depth and students and parents were confident that it would be safe to return while getting back to "normal". We have adopted all sector and national governing body guidelines when implementing activities and staff have adapted their delivery methods to reflect this.
We know there can be real stigma around physical activity, particularly the memories of school PE lessons that some students were unenthusiastic about. So at Truro and Penwith we have tried to create a diverse and carefully targeted health and wellbeing programme that reintroduces the benefits of a managed physical programme that motivates everyone to get active.
As a result we have seen large numbers of staff and students benefit significantly from the health, wellbeing and sports programme, which has ultimately improved the quality of their lives. I want this to continue as we reopen and support students to be active even if things might feel and look a little different.
A healthy and vibrant student community
Our health, wellbeing and sports programme mirrors a lot of AoC Sport’s student health campaign. Data from the programme shows that as students and staff attendance increases we see improved self-confidence, development of key employability skills, enhanced student experience and improvements in mental wellbeing. Significant numbers of students said that engaging in sport and exercise had helped them with their college work. The student experience is at the heart of what colleges do. As we tackle the challenges posed by Covid-19, we should be doing all we can to promote a healthy and vibrant student community and sport should be at the forefront of this.
The barriers many colleges face following lockdown can be positively removed by getting involved in initiatives such as the Be Your Best Pre-Season programme. I want to end on a positive note and say that where there were upturns in people undertaking physical exercise during lockdown, this helped mental wellbeing dramatically. We can build on this to improve the daily experience of our students and staff and I strongly encourage colleges across the country to do the same.
I am always optimistic and hope that in the New Year we will be able to offer our students that competitive environment so many of them enjoy. We have an opportunity to really broaden the appeal of our sport and recreation offer to prepare us well for the eventual return to some form of normality.
Martin Tucker is the principal at Truro and Penwith College