Stephen Hunt, sport project officer for the Association of Colleges, writes:
A college may have excellent exam results and fantastic facilities, but the thing that keeps many students coming back every day is sport and physical activity.
As Eddie Playfair, principal of Newham Sixth Form College in East London, puts it: "Sport is, for some students, the one thing that keeps them attending classes and in the college. Students turn up because they want to spend time with friends, like the environment and enjoy being part of a team – sport plays a huge part in that."
Students agree: more than one in five of those surveyed by Sport England said that the sporting opportunities on offer were influential in their decision to apply to a college. Half of these students agreed that being involved in sport meant they attended college more than they would have done otherwise.
Worthing College principal Peter Corrigan backs this up, arguing that the breadth of the organisation’s sport provision “aids massively” with recruitment.
It’s hard to deny the attraction of sport and the power it has to engage and inspire. At the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, LOCOG chief executive Seb Coe said that ”there is a truth to sport, a drama, an intensity, a spirit that makes it irresistible to take part in and irresistible to watch”. What followed proved Lord Coe right, as the country came together to be part of an incredible summer of sport.
The promise to deliver a sport and physical activity legacy from London 2012 has opened up new opportunities for colleges. Tangible investment in FE sport, including £25m lottery funding through Sport England and resource commitment by national governing bodies of sport has boosted a previously unloved part of the sporting landscape.
The college sport workforce has grown (both in and outside of colleges), there is increased interest from sporting organisations and the latest college sport survey showed that the decline caused by funding cuts in 2010 is being reversed.
Colleges are increasingly turning this attention and investment into something more wide-reaching, using sport to impact on their core objectives of increasing revenue, ensuring quality and developing successful, well-rounded students.
In light of further cuts to budgets, attracting students to, and keeping them in, college is absolutely vital. Moulton College has invested heavily in sports facilities and has seen recruitment rise significantly to over 850 full-time sports students.
A high-quality sports academy programme can also boost a college’s profile and retain students. At Totton College, for instance, sport academy student attendance is over 3 per cent higher than non-sport students.
To truly demonstrate the value of sport to a college, it has to make a difference to student success. The knowledge and experience that a student can gain through involvement in sport, either by playing, volunteering or coaching, is huge and can be transferred to their studies and help develop lifelong skills.
For Kingston College principal Peter Mayhew-Smith, the transferable skills valued by employers and universities – such as confidence, teamwork and leadership – are “much more likely to be evident among students who are involved in sport and physical activity”.
Research by the Association of Colleges (AoC) and British Universities and Colleges Sport revealed that 94 per cent of employers were overwhelmingly positive about the benefits of students getting involved in sport.
Student success and achievement stem from enjoying what you do, your environment and the people around you. Sport can bring positivity, dynamism and passion to a college, and can underpin a college’s core values.
Richard Atkins, principal of Exeter College, is reaping the rewards of placing sport at the heart of the college. It's like "electricity", he reckons: "it brings energy and enthusiasm to our college, and these qualities spread college-wide. It can be a key ingredient if you want students to be positive and engaged.”
While much good work took place in colleges prior to the Olympics and Paralympic Games, London 2012 has been the catalyst to drive college sport and raise the profile of the sector.. The AoC Beacon Award for Sport was introduced in 2012 to celebrate innovation and outstanding practice, and the AoC Gold Awards recognise high-profile FE alumni, including Paralympic double-gold medallist Hannah Cockroft, boxer Amir Khan and England rugby player Maggie Alphonso.
It’s an exciting time for FE sport, and colleges up and down the country are doing fantastic work to engage and inspire their students.Continuing to raise the sector’s profile and providing clear, demonstrable evidence of why sport and physical activity should be an essential part of a college’s offer is crucial.That way, the legacy from our greatest ever summer of sport will be felt in every college across England.