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'Our duty as educators and coaches is to create positive environments in which all pupils, regardless of their sex, can thrive'

Posted on: 08 Dec 2017
Posted by: Mark Burley

Mark Burley, director of sport at Canford School, highlights the sporting opportunities which are available for female pupils at Canford School.

The recent research quoted in the national press regarding the pressures girls face when trying to participate in sport is clearly a valid one for many, but it is something we strive to remove at Canford. The opportunity to participate in regular sport is a feature across all the year groups and both genders. Of course, there are some pupils who don't necessarily wish to play competitive sport and in such instances a meaningful involvement in a sport which can be pursued for life is very much the preferred option. Our senior girls have the opportunity to participate in professionally run exercise to music and dance classes three times a week where challenging choreography and high intensity workouts create a chance to be competitive with oneself. Sports such as badminton, swimming, squash, real tennis and golf are all activities which can be embraced beyond the school walls, well into later life and the take up amongst female pupils is frequently high. We are very fortunate to possess outstanding facilities and the combination of enthusiastic male and female teaching and coaching staff create a positive environment which allows novices and experts across the whole pupil body the chance to develop their skills and fitness. There are certainly competitive opportunities and active encouragement for all pupils who wish to represent the school in these sports but equal scope is given to those wishing to participate for purely recreational reasons.


The notion of girls suffering from lower levels of self-confidence and esteem within sport might well manifest itself within the traditional masculine areas of strength and conditioning and fitness. At Canford we have instigated female only sessions for junior girls which have armed these participants with the movement ability and technique to lift weights safely and progressively. This has been so successful that numerous senior girls have the self-confidence to lift alongside their male peers without fear of being patronised or sneered at. The strength and conditioning room is very much a gender neutral environment and with young male and female staff leading these sessions the female pupils see themselves as worthy and equal participants. An attitude which they take in many other arenas.


The anxiety and worries associated with exams are often cited as reasons for girls dropping out of sport and there has certainly been a small expression of concern from some pupils and parents at wanting more time to study during the summer term. However, such concerns have been represented equally amongst boys and girls but when evaluation of exam performances has occurred it is frequently the highest academic achievers who have also been the keenest sports participants. There is a significant body of evidence reinforcing the importance and value of maintaining a regular programme of exercise and sport during exams and this is a message we wholeheartedly endorse for all our girls and boys. With 12 tennis teams amongst the girls, five female crews within the boat club and tens of female athletes competing against other schools during the summer, our programme of competitive sport for female pupils is comprehensive and is reinforced during the winter and spring with a dozen hockey and netball teams frequently playing matches.


Young, aspirational female pupils see themselves as the equal of anybody and when accolades and achievements are highlighted they are rightly quick to point out any discrepancies or perceived inequity in the attention given. The weekly sports update we produce at Canford is firmly stocked with reports of outstanding performances and application across the genders and this is reflected at end of term assemblies, sports dinners and presentation evenings. Rewards and recognition undoubtedly help boost self-esteem and not just for the highest achievers. In an area when stress and deteriorating mental health is more prevalent amongst our teenagers than ever before, sport and exercise should be used as a release from this issue not as a fuel for it. Our duty as educators and coaches is to create positive environments in which all pupils, regardless of their sex, can thrive.

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About Mark Burley

Mark Burley is director of sport at Canford School in Dorset.