Andrew Mourant visits the UK's first badminton academy, where teachers are committed to getting students of all ages involved in the sport Shuttle service: Witchford College has helped rewrite the badminton schools' programme
Badminton in schools has experienced a revolution since the Olympic success of Nathan Robertson and Gail Emms, mixed-doubles silver medallists in 2004's Athens games. The first badminton academy has been established in Cambridgeshire to reach age groups from the youngest primary pupils to club standard players. The game has long been a strength of Witchford Village College, near Ely, whose director of sport, Dave Smith, helped rewrite Badminton England's programme for schools.
Key stage 1 has been the priority - the aim not only to fire pupils'
interest, but to instil the basics of proper movement. Many able young athletes run before they learn to walk. "You get 14-year-olds going to physiotherapists with problems of all kinds," Dave says. So, before they go near a racket, four to eight-year-olds will learn how to walk, run, squat, lunge, bend, push, pull, rotate and twist.
This new initiative was tried out with 10 primary teachers at Badminton England's headquarters in Milton Keynes. Six lesson cards were written for teachers and the scheme offers them an award. "The session went well - we were PE specialists, they weren't, but they came up with ideas so we modified things slightly," says Dave.
Witchford currently has links with 28 primaries. Soon there will be more than 50. One - the Rackham C of E Primary School - already has a thriving badminton club. But these are a rarity, as are qualified PE teachers in primaries - among the 28 already linked to Witchford, there are only two.
Badminton at Rackham has flourished for more than 10 years, sustained by three enthusiasts: senior teacher Richard Forder-Stent, headteacher Sid Wales, and secretary Anne Coleman. "For proper badminton skills we keep it to Year 6," says Sid.
"We've found it good for improving co-ordination and teaching aspects of discipline, with an improvement in teamwork. There are usually 12-16 in each year group, but in good weather we put up a badminton net in the field that all ages can use. There's usually a queue so we have a rota."
Becoming a badminton academy requires a big commitment. At Witchford, a specialist sports college for three years, where 10 teachers play the game, Dave Smith is putting all PE staff on a level 2 coaching course. KS2-4 include modules comprising games ideas, delivering racket skills, technical content relating to officiating, scoring and competition. "We're very keen to get young people officiating," he says.
Key to sustaining interest among school leavers is establishing links with the local club, in line with government strategy. "Kids leave at 16 and don't have anywhere to go," says Dave. "The local club doesn't have a junior section. We're looking to develop pathways for 14 to 18-year-olds from school to club. Sixteen-year-olds won't just wander in and join, they're too shy." Lionel Partridge, chairman of Ely Victoria badminton club, welcomes Witchford's academy status. "We've been keen to do something for years to get younger people into the club," he says. "We're quite competitive and have teams playing at county level. In most sports kids don't tend to carry on after they've left school. We'd like to pick up kids at 16 or 17. Currently, we have 45 members aged 21 to 50 plus. The younger ones are keen on going to the academy and getting the coaching on offer.
Some will go there and be trained as coaches. They will bring on other kids."
Witchford was the first to be granted badminton academy status. Five others have recently followed: BriertonCommunity School and Sports College, Hartlepool; The Deanes, Benfleet, Essex; King Arthur's School in Wincanton; and The Wilson School in Wallington, Surrey.
Sue believes Olympic success has galvanised the sport. "It's given badminton a much higher profile," she says. "Gail and Nathan are very approachable and good fun - they have made it really attractive to children. By 2012, kids will be thinking they've got the chance to be like them.
"In January, we had more than 7,500 new junior players aged 8-18 taking part in badminton for six weeks or more. We want to make sure children in school have the best chance of playing at a good level and promote it as a fun recreational sport. The work with schools is very much a partnership - a two way process."
Requirements for achieving badminton academy status are:
* The school must provide a three-year development plan and satisfy strict criteria.
* Facilities must be available for county squad training, match sessions, and school and community use. There should be a full range of good, well-maintained equipment and someone should be available for coaching at level 2 for academy, school and club sessions.
* Most PE staff should be qualified in one of the teachers' awards or as a teacher coach at level 1, and at least one should be working to level 2.
* The school should work closely with its county badminton association and Badminton England and must provide a coaching course at level 1 each year and at level 2 biannually.
* Support training for level 1 sports leader awards should be provided.
* Badminton must feature within the curriculum for all age groups and be offered within a range of qualifications, including GCSE and A-level.
* Parents should be involved in mentoring and player support and holiday activities should include badminton and the school will be expected to host festivals and competitions.
* Applications should be in by end July or December, to Sue Shelswell, national schools and junior clubs manager Email: firstname.lastname@example.org