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What challenges do schools face in shaping a pathway for children into sports participation?

What challenges do schools face in shaping a pathway for children into sports participation?

New data from Active Lives Survey 2021/22 reports that 52.8% (3.9m) of children aren’t meeting the recommended average of 60 minutes of exercise per day.  Schools are facing huge challenges in engaging children in sport and physical activity.

With that in mind, we want to shine a light on Heathfield Junior School and James Watson, PE Lead, whose dedication to increasing sports participation is an inspiration for us all.


Having previously offered only limited opportunities for children to engage in sport, Richmond’s Heathfield Junior School has come a long way. After joining the school four years ago with the aim to revolutionise both the PE curriculum and the sport and physical activity offer outside of the school day, James undertook a challenge to engage under-served children from a deprived area who didn’t participate in sporting activities, using physical activity to improve their outlook on life.

Heathfield’s journey with sport and cricket

Introducing cricket to Heathfield Junior School was the brainchild of James Watson, PE Lead at Heathfield Junior School who together with Middlesex Cricket Club and the charity ‘Chance to Shine’, gave children aged 7-11 years the opportunity to learn, experience and then play cricket.

Despite having limited funding, the school managed to bring in professional cricketers Monte Lynch and Scott Newman, who immediately recognised the children’s passion and desire to play, improve and enjoy the sport. The Covid-19 pandemic meant cricket was transferred into the digital world, with lessons being run online which made them accessible from home but this failed to stem the enthusiasm and momentum that the school community had for cricket.

The school has made astonishing progress in the school cricket world. Remarkably, this year they were one of only four state schools included in the Cricketer’s School top 50 schools guide for the second year running. This is an amazing achievement not only for the children, who dedicate much of their free time to the sport, but also for the school itself to be included on a list that is typically dominated by private schools as explained by James Watson who stated:

“To be included in the top 50 is amazing as it is usually a thing for private schools. It is not played a lot within state schools, and we are trying to break down that barrier.”

           Heathfield Junior School’s pupils with Monte Lynch – a professional cricketer

Ground-breaking Thrive Programme

James Watson used cricket as a vehicle to create the ‘Thrive Programme’ which added an extra PE lesson to the school’s curriculum. This programme tackles one of the many issues schools are facing in providing pupils with opportunities in sport – PE being perceived as a secondary subject when, given its potential impact, should be a core one. This programme received national media coverage and resulted in articles published in the Cricketers, Wisden, PE and Sport and the Mirror magazines.


Heathfield Junior School continues to climb the ladder of success, winning the school sports award at the Education and Business Awards in 2021 and 2022, as well as encouraging five children from the school to attend borough cricket trials. It has also been offered a girls-free membership this year and £200 worth of free equipment by Hampton Wick Royal CC and has been asked to showcase a cricket camp in which pupils can develop self-esteem, resilience, and creativity through sports. Additionally, together with Callum Donnelly (Year 6 teacher), James is on the Hampton Wick Royal Girls Taskforce to give girls an opportunity to play cricket.

State schools face many obstacles while providing opportunities for pupils to engage in sport and physical activity. However, with the help of charities and clubs that understand the importance of sport, and the motivation to revolutionise the whole perception of PE within the school’s curriculum, schools can do more to help children to develop the habit of active life.


Gary Palmer, Strategic Lead for Children and Young People at London Sport said:

“The outstanding work of James Watson, with the support of his Head Teacher, staff colleagues at the school and community sport volunteers provide an exceptional illustration of how it is still possible to create a pathway into sports participation in spite of the many challenges that we face.  Everyone involved in this terrific programme deserves credit for their commitment to using sport and physical activity to enhance the lives of young Londoners

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