Fully focused

The importance of sport to a school community in 2020

Far from being marginalised, sport moved centre stage at this UK day and boarding school during a difficult year, as Ed Buck, Director of Sport reports.

And so it began . . .

Giggleswick School is a coeducational boarding and day school set in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales – a unique backdrop for the school’s state-of-the-art sporting facilities. With over 500 years of history, the School has witnessed and navigated the most unsettled times in modern day education. As the national lockdown began in late March 2020, we were forced to suspend all on campus sport and explore opportunities for online provision as part of what became the Giggleswick Virtual School for the summer term.

Headmaster Mark Turnbull and Tanni Grey-Thompson (Top British paralympian) with former heads of school Christopher Mills and Isobel Francis.

No one could predict what lay ahead for PE and Sport but, as Headmaster, Mark Turnbull simply said throughout the year “We are still Giggleswick”. This resonated, provided a consistent starting point for our planning and drove standards as the department designed a new programme which encapsulated our values of participation, ambition and respect.

What we wanted: Spring Term 2020

In the PE department we sensed that everyone’s physical and mental health should be central to what we did. On reflection we realised too just how important this was in ‘normal’ times.

The SLT agreed, and the Virtual Sports programme took centre stage each afternoon in every pupil’s timetable, allowing pupils to remain active, healthy and competitive on a daily basis.

The impact of the virtual programme on pupils’ physical fitness was even measurable as we monitored student progress using Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Forms, fitness-based apps and videos.


Moving on: Summer 2020

Following the Easter break, it was apparent that every department in school would be facing a tough time and that staff would have to surmount the challenge of teaching remotely for the foreseeable future. The response was the creation of  Giggleswick Virtual School, as complete a model of all that the school would normally deliver as we could make it.

Choice and involvement

Online skills demonstration

We have always prided ourselves on the choices we give to students as they discover through which sport they best express themselves, and in the virtual programme we were successfully able to deliver a wide range of virtual options which were adapted to promote individual skills and physical activity.

Across the Spring and Summer terms, these included Rugby, Hockey, Netball, Tennis, Circuit Training, Crossfit, HIIT, Running Club, Yoga and Speed Training. The completion of a Virtual Sports Day and weekly House Challenge enabled pupils to cover a distance of 7,000km and maintain house spirit was another boost to school morale.

Extra time webinars

We also added a series of weekly Giggleswick Sport ‘Extra Time’ webinars which featured some of the best players and coaches in the world, including Stuart Lancaster – Ex-England Head Coach and Leinster Rugby Coach, Lizzie Simmonds, former European backstroke champion and Olympian,  Peace Proscovia, Ugandan Netball Captain and Dougie Lampkin MBE, 7 time World Trial Bike Champion.


Giggleswick vs COVID-19: Autumn Term 2020

The Autumn Term was always going to be a bit of a gruelling encounter against COVID-19, but this time back at school. We wanted to implement a diverse and impactful programme which would continue to benefit pupils’ mental, physical and social wellbeing. Creating a programme that allowed pupils a safe and gradual return to physical activity was at the forefront of my mind. Pupil wellbeing was again the main focus of the programme after everyone had been away from school for so long and we came up with a holistic programme which continued to reflects traditional games, the arts and individual sporting options such as Yoga, Cross Country and many more.

Whether it is scaling the Fells on our National Fell Running Championship course, understanding fundamental movement skills in Athletic Development lessons or facilitating games in a wide variety of elite team sports, we wanted our pupils to have had the opportunity to participate and remain ambitious in their performances, while finding their own niche.

Team sports

Inter-school fixtures were not possible, but now we were back on campus, enhanced intra-school competitions have combined an elite level of performance with high levels of participation within each year group. Intra-school and vertical whole school competitions were held for Rugby, Hockey and Netball, with teams named after the powerhouses in each respective sport – Exeter Chiefs, Wasps and Bath in Rugby, Belgium, Netherlands and Great Britain in Hockey.


And then there’s Scarrig, a 112 year old cross country race in which every pupil in the school completes in the spring term. This year, we moved it forward to encourage running in the Autumn Term, knowing that there would be no Covid-based impediment to elite performance – a move that was more than justified as long-standing records tumbled and the whole school came together for an event which captured group imagination and individual ambition.

Covid did not beat us on this one and we successfully implemented a full scale, socially distanced race. Pupils covered a total distance of 584 miles on some of Yorkshire’s most harrowing hills.


The next leg: Spring Term 2021

No one quite knows what the future holds for school sport in the New Year. Loosely scheduled fixtures with local rivals and whispers of adapted sports had given us some hope, but with the third wave of Covid now on us, we’re not quite so sure. As a department, we will take the best of the previous two terms and implement a programme which is modern and fit for purpose – one to enable pupils to develop their physical, mental and social wellbeing.

We are  adamant that, whatever the picture looks like, our values will be lived throughout the Sports Programme on a daily basis. Participation, ambition and respect will be ever present, and PE at the centre of our pupils’ learning.


Ed Buck, Director of Sport, Giggleswick School

Edward Buck is currently the whole School Director of Sport at Giggleswick School in North Yorkshire. Having recently been appointed he is looking forward to developing Physical Activity and Sport in the future to better support pupils physical and mental well-being.




Images kindly supplied by Giggleswick School.

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