Enthusiasm is returning to school sport. Pupils are back in school, the sun is shining and the prospects are improving significantly. Most schools are happy to have an unexpected return to winter sports for the few remaining weeks of the Spring term, whilst looking ahead to the Summer with renewed expectation.
So, what might be possible in the way of school sport?
56% of schools polled expected to have a limited form of inter-school competition in the Summer term, with 35% expecting a full programme from the start of term. It is possible that this latter unbridled ambition may have to be curtailed when it collides with the wider concerns of each school’s leadership. However, it certainly appears that there could be a return to this much-missed dimension of the programme for schools who can manage the risks to their satisfaction.
It is, however, difficult to see that schools will welcome sports excursions for senior pupils during the period of the assessments that will replace exams. It is hard to imagine a disaster greater than having to send the Upper Sixth home for a week at a crucial time because of a case contracted at a Tennis match. Also, whilst bubbles are intact, it will remain difficult to consider block fixtures in the normal sense.
The understandable demand to hold “legacy” fixtures of winter sports for Sixth Form pupils will be a pressure in some schools. The opportunity to pull on the Rugby jersey, or Netball dress, for the last time, is emotionally attractive, but may prove difficult to accommodate in any significant quantity. The requirements for adequate preparation for competition, especially for higher risk activities, may be troublesome to manage alongside summer term activities. There is a neatness that interruptions to schooling will have been almost exactly a year: this means that each sports season has been equally impacted, and therefore starting again as normal in April means that the disadvantage is equally shared between games.
It seems likely that a small amount of sport may take place in the first part of term, predominantly with age groups below the public exam years. Cricket, Tennis and Rounders lend themselves readily to social distancing and accommodate these restrictions comfortably. A focus on local games, with transport potentially managed by parents, would seem achievable from the start of term. Beyond half term, and the completion of external exam assessments, this might change again – and for the better. It is not difficult to see an expansion of sport through June - especially if restrictions are concluded, as planned, on 21st, - and the term ending on a high that would point towards a happy resumption of normal activities in the Autumn.
Some activities might be more difficult to accommodate. Athletics teams, crossing all year group boundaries and involving large assemblies and shared competition equipment, may be more difficult to accommodate. Similarly, national competitions would need to get underway at the start of term in order to fulfil all necessary rounds: the usual level of enthusiasm for participating in these may not be forthcoming.
There will, inevitably, be movement toward a resumption of inter-school sport through the summer term. It will be unequal between schools, and none will have their usual programme. However, until bubbles are discontinued, and a positive case only requires that pupil to isolate, and not also all contacts, there can be no resumption of the volume and operation of school sport as it was known pre-pandemic. The sector has to hope that these conditions will be in place by September, and that the Autumn term really will see the long-awaited return to normal.