On 10 October the Active Partnerships National Organisation, along with key partners and funders including the Department for Education, StreetGames, ukactive and the Youth Sport Trust, hosted a conference in London to celebrate the success of the Opening Schools Facilities (OSF) programme.
The conference, which was held at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in North London, brought together representatives from more than 40 Active Partnerships from across the network, national governing bodies and other exhibitors, and provided an opportunity to discuss the programme’s achievements, highlight learnings from across the network and looked at how the programme could be sustained long-term.
As well as an initial presentation from Claire Lee, our National Programme Lead for OSF and Helen Pring, our Relationships Director, which highlighted the success, included a thank you to partners and outlined future challenges, several workshops were held across the morning and afternoon sessions.
These workshops covered a range of topics including discussions about a monitoring, evaluation and learning framework for the programme, the sustainability of the programme, physical literacy and Sport England’s recent publication of a consensus statement, and looked at how to further engage with Multi Academy Trusts.
Helen Pring explained why it was important to bring everyone involved in the programme together at the conference: “In the first year of the programme we focused on building relationships but now it is right that we turn our attention as a group to how we can ensure that the programme continues to deliver for schools and communities in the future.
“The OSF programme is constantly evolving so we felt the conference would be a really great way of continuing to capture and share learnings from across our network of 43 Active Partnerships and allow everyone an opportunity to contribute to the discussions around evaluation and sustainability.”
The Opening School facilities programme, which was set up in 2022, is funded by the Department of Education, which has committed funding until March 2025, and Beverley Southward explained why this support has been provided: “Physical activity and sport is a key priority for the Government and programmes like this are very important.
“The data shows an increase in childhood obesity and activity levels were also impacted during the pandemic, so the OSF programme contributes to combatting those things, as it’s a great way of getting more children, more young people and wider community members more physically active.
“We also have the updated school sport and activity plan and the Government’s new Get Active Strategy that sets a target for increasing the number of people that are active and so this programme could really help contribute to that.”
The Youth Sport Trust is one of the partners for the programme and among the representatives attending the conference was the charity’s National Programmes Director, Emily Reynolds: “Today is important because we’ve had an emphasis on sustainability and the wider community use so we are now starting to move beyond focusing on the participants who are accessing the facilities and that’s a really positive step.
“At the start of the conference two important systemic issues were highlighted - the inactivity of certain parts of our communities and the clear shortage of facilities. This has started to change the conversations we are having, so that we aren’t just concentrating on the inactivity piece, but we’re also now looking at the facilities more broadly.
“Some of the examples shared today have revealed that a more challenging line is being taken, with secondary schools being asked to commit to a community use agreement for example, and it would be brilliant to see other Active Partnerships put that in place, as that would really help to drive sustainability for the programme.
The importance of giving young people a voice was also a clear priority for delegates throughout the event and this is a concept, which StreetGames, another Opening School Facilities programme partner, is fully focused on.
Jane Shewring, National Director for StreetGames, attended the event and spoke about why youth voice is fundamental to the work of the charity. Jane said: “At StreetGames we are trying to support young people who don’t normally have access to sport and physical activity outside of the school day, and trying to understand what those children want is vital to this programme.
“There are opportunities out there but they’re not always accessible so we’re trying to find out from young people, especially those in specific target groups such as girls, pupils with low attendance levels, or children from underserved communities, not just what activities they want but also how they want that activity to be delivered and the ideal timing of the session too.”
“If we can make sure we are providing sessions that young people want and can access, then this programme will become more sustainable in the future and that should hopefully lead to an increase in the levels of participation. “
Workshops that considered the creation of a monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) framework were also held during the conference. ukactive are the OSF qualitative evaluation partners and representatives, including Alex Lucas, Senior Research Analyst at UK Active, led some of the sessions.
Alex outlined some of the important conversations that had been taking place throughout the day: “The MEL workshops have been exploring some of the challenges and successes and looking at what learnings can be taken forward. There have been lots of interesting stories coming through and these conversations have highlighted similarities across the different regions, as well as lots of challenges relating to the logistics of opening up schools.
“This conference has been a great opportunity for different Active Partnerships to come together, share the challenges and realise that they can take a solution from a different area and make it work for them.”
More Opening School Facilities events are expected to take place in 2024. For more details or for information about the programme and its partners, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.