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Cut and thrust in the curriculum

Some years ago, I took a school party on an outdoor pursuits trip to Norfolk. Everyone had a go at rock climbing, but the only person who managed to climb the wall was a girl who had always stayed on the fringe of things. For her, it was a life-changing moment, and this encouraged me to broaden the curriculum and introduce as many activities as possible.

We started fencing lessons at our school about five years ago. I seized the opportunity when I met fencing coach Andrew Wilkinson, and fencing is now part of the sports timetable: Years 5 and 6 (about 60 children) have weekly lessons in groups of 15.

Andrew has supplied the protective clothing - foils, tunics, masks and gloves, which would otherwise have cost around pound;2,000. Fencing is a very carefully controlled sport; it has its own etiquette, which the children learn. It also demands discipline and manual dexterity. As children wear protective clothing and we have a fully qualified coach, we are confident safety is taken care of. Many children love it - they say they wake up in the morning and can't wait for their lesson; others, of course, are not so enthusiastic, but for some it is something they can do when they find the rest of the curriculum difficult.

One boy has real talent, says Andrew. The main point is that children have the opportunity to try something which would usually not be possible for them. It's part of the process of self-discovery. Last year, we entered the London Junior foil team event - we are ranked sixth in London.

Graham Gunn, headteacher, StJohn's Primary School, Whetstone, Barnet

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