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United Sport

As part of our response to the London 2012 Olympic legacy, we have created the United Sport initiative.

Shaun Dowling is Head of Sport at United.  Shaun’s background includes spells as a head of PE; a Director of PE and Sport in a specialist Sports College; deputy head in two secondary schools; and in a national role for YST. As such he is well-placed to support subject leaders across the group in both improving their PE and school sport provision and in using sport to drive school improvement. In his sports college role, Shaun also led a network of secondary and primary schools, leading training in PE and co-teaching lessons at KS2.

Schools in the group are divided into geographical clusters for PE/sport. These clusters meet in the autumn and spring terms to discuss their CPD needs and any intra-cluster sporting opportunities that their local networks are currently not providing.  Activities have included cross-cluster moderations, learning walks, sporting competitions and sports tours to other schools in the group. In the summer term we hold our national conference for subject leaders.

In 2016 we launched our PE and Health Curriculum and Assessment Framework (PEHCAF).  In doing so the group’s subject leaders decided on three main themes: performance (Fit to Perform), leadership (Fit to Lead) and health & well-being (Fit for Life), best summarised by this model:

State academies and independent schools have the flexibility to design their own programmes of study to fit their context and ethos within this framework, but as a group of schools we are united behind the underlying values and principles of this model.  One of our national partners, Sports Leaders UK, have helped us to design the Fit to Lead strand so that it builds towards their qualifications in KS4.


In April 2017 the KS1 and KS2 PEHCAF was launched and is currently in the initial phases of implementation.

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Our group-wide sport/arts festival #Challenge2020 will see creative physical activity challenges over 20 weeks using the figure 2020.

Inspired by the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, ‘Challenge 2020’ is designed to encourage pupils and staff of all ages to get moving and support one another as they take on new and exciting activities. The challenge is an opportunity for participants to see for themselves the benefits of leading an active lifestyle and fosters collaboration, competition and character across the Group.

Throughout the duration of the challenge, schools will also be given opportunities to engage with Japanese cultural activities. Our primary schools will be celebrating Challenge 2020 by singing three new songs, written especially for the project by inspirational choral composers Joanna and Alexander L’Estrange. Contributions to the lyrics of these songs have been made by Year 5 pupils from Surbiton High School who have written haiku poetry about sport, perseverance and well-being.

This kind of Group-wide activity is the perfect example of how we strive to deliver an Education with Character across all our primary and secondary schools. This means supporting pupils in facing challenges they find hard, encouraging them to succeed only through persistence and determination, and instilling in them a respect for the people and world around them. 

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"School Improvement Through Using the Power of Sport"


United Learning’s aim is to bring out ‘the best in everyone’ in our group of state academies and independent schools. Sport is unique in its ability to make a substantial contribution to the physical and emotional wellbeing of students. Several schools in United Learning have used sport to intervene successfully with targeted young people. Whether these students were underachieving, struggling to integrate into the school community, or needing a boost in skills or confidence in order to be successful in school, sport has been able to reach those young people where other interventions may not.

Through a range of centrally run programmes United Sport aims to drive School Improvement Through Using the Power of Sport (SITUPS). This is the overarching term we use for all of our interventions using sport as the tool or hook to support students in our schools. Such work includes our work with other charities such as the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust (DHKT), Football Beyond Borders (FBB) and Snow Camp.


On Track to Achieve

Working in partnership, United Learning and the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust have devised a new pilot programme targeted at students receiving the Pupil Premium. Based on a combination of the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust’s existing successful community programmes and United Learning’s Education with Character strand of our Framework for Excellence, On TRACK to Achieve aims to improve the educational achievement of young people aged between 14 and 19.

Four United Learning academies are being provided with dedicated support from an Athlete Mentor from Dame Kelly Holmes Trust’s ‘GiveBack’ Team. This will take the form of one to one and group mentoring for students faced with challenging personal circumstances and/or a low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. For whatever reason, they are currently underachieving in school. This progamme aims to use the power of mentoring to re-engage these young people with their learning so that their potential may be realised.

Although the pilot programme is unique to each school and even to each student within each school, the broad framework within which it sits would see the young people working towards at least one of the following outcomes:

  • T - Teachability (Young people to develop the right attitudes for learning)
  • R - Responsibility (Young people to develop skills for managing self and leading others)
  • A - Aspirations (Young people to raise aspirations and expectations on future life goals)
  • C - Character (Young people to increase their confidence, self-belief and motivation)
  • K - Knowledge (Young people to further develop their skills and knowledge).

Curriculum and Assessment

Over the past 12-18 months, the PE and sport network of United Learning have been developing a curriculum and assessment framework ready for teaching from September 2016. This follows the lead given in English and maths which began teaching a common curriculum at the start of the 2015/16 academic year.

Where do you start when charged with writing a PE curriculum for schools spread geographically across the country and straddling the state and independent sectors? A curriculum that needs to be distinctive to United Learning; flexible enough to be adopted and adapted by every secondary school regardless of context; and yet reflecting the essential national priorities for the physical and mental development of young people.

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Sports Ambassadors

The team of United Learning Sport Ambassadors are elite athletes who
all want to make a difference to the lives of young people.

Having recently recruited track star Jason Gardener to the team, our cadre includes World Champions, Olympic and international medallists, international performers and athletes who have been the best that Britain has had in their field. Some are transitioning out of their careers as professional athletes; others are very much still competing, including Alex Danson, Maddie Hinch, Lauren Steadman and Emma Wiggs who all competed at Rio 2016.

Each athlete has been linked to one of the six United Learning ‘Core Values’. Bonita Norris, for example, having been the youngest British female to climb Everest, represents our value of ‘Ambition’. When she speaks in schools she relates her journey from a non-climber to elite mountaineer stemming from her ambition “to see the curvature of the earth”. Former international athletes and Gladiators, Jenny and Wayne, on the other hand, deliver their Core Value of ‘Enthusiasm’ through fun active, practical workshops with students.

Feedback from the Sport Ambassador visits to our schools has been incredible, from students and staff alike. We know that they have been an inspiration to over 10,000 young people in the past two years.

Bonita Norris
Bonita broke the record of the youngest person to climb Mount Everest when she completed the challenge aged just 22 in 2010. She offers workshops and motivational speeches on the importance of mapping out the steps to realising ambition so that dreams become reality.
Shelley Rudman
Shelley is the current World Champion in the Skeleton Bobsleigh She offers workshops and motivational speeches. Shelley is well qualified to talk about the importance of confidence! The ups and downs of Shelley's career have instilled in her the need for self-confidence when overcoming setbacks, defeat and adversity.
Adele Carlsen
Adele is a former international synchronised swimmer who has both coached at international level and managed the GB synchro team for the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. She offers workshops and motivational speeches on the importance of team work. There are many lessons to be drawn from Adele’s experiences of harmonising with others to achieve success.
Chemmy Alcott
Chemmy is Britain’s number one female alpine skier and four time Olympian. She was the first British woman to qualify for the World Cup Finals, the first British skier to win a run in a World Cup race and the first British skier to win the British Land National Ski Championships six times in a row. As part of her work with United Learning, Chemmy has launched our X-Elle initiative.
Alex Danson
Olympic Gold Medallist Alex is England and Team GB’s star hockey forward, and was the top goal scorer in GB’s successful Olympic Bronze medal winning squad in London 2012, and taking home the top prize at Rio 2016.
Emma Wiggs
A former PE teacher at The Regis School, Emma represented Great Britain in the London 2012 Paralympic Games in Seated Volleyball. Sitting Volleyball really appealed to her for the dynamic team aspects of the sport. Following a transfer to the para-canoe team, Emma won Gold at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. She offers workshops and motivational speeches. Emma’s message is clear: Sheer determination can help overcome any challenges and obstacles.
Wayne and Jenny
Jenny is a former international track and field athlete and Wayne is a former international bobsleigher. Both now work as sports models, presenters and celebrity personal trainers. They run their own fitness business, Pace & Go, and may be better known as gladiators Doom and Enigma! They offer workshops and motivational speeches. Both Jenny and Wayne are hugely enthusiastic about life, health and well-being. They are focused on inspiring, educating and motivating young people through physical activity and positive attitudes.
Lauren Steadman
Lauren Steadman is the current Paralympic Triathlon Champion in the Women’s Individual PTS5 race, three-time World Champion and seven-time European Champion. Lauren was born without her lower right arm and has proudly represented Team GB in the paratriathlon’s inaugural entry to the Paralympic Games at Rio 2016, where Lauren achieved the Silver medal. Five years later, Lauren returned to the Games stronger than ever at Tokyo 2020. Lauren made history as she crossed the finish line in Tokyo, winning the Paralympic Champion title for Team GB. It was the culmination of a 16 year dream and the final medal to complete her arsenal of titles. Academically, Lauren has achieved a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Psychology where she gained a First Class Honours quickly followed up by a Masters in Business Management from the University of Portsmouth. Away from sport, Lauren has also shown her talents on the big screen, where she competed and won S.A.S: Who Dares Wins in 2020 and achieved a lifetime goal when she appeared on Strictly Come Dancing in 2018 and secured herself a spot in the semi-finals.
Jason Gardener
Jason is one of the UK’s all-time great sprinters. He achieved one of his ultimate ambitions at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games by winning Gold in the men’s 4x100m relay. Earlier that year he became World Indoor Champion over 60m. Winner of four European Indoor Championship titles over 60 meters and a Commonwealth Games Champion for the 4x100m relay. He is a member of the very select sub 10 second club for 100m with a personal best of 9.98 seconds and captained the Great Britain & Northern Ireland Athletics team. Jason is well respected, articulate and educated and has a BSC Honours degree in Media and Sociology. He was awarded an MBE for services to athletics and has been made a Freeman of the city of Bath.
Maddie Hinch
Having made her senior debut in 2008, Maddie Hinch has represented England and Great Britain over 150 times. Maddie grabbed the world’s attention during her show-stopping display in the 2016 Olympic shootout final as 10 million people watched on to witness her first Olympic medal, a historic gold. Rightfully so, Maddie was named Goalkeeper of the Year after her nail-biting display, going on to win the title a further two times. History repeated itself five years later as Maddie's heroic shootout performance in the Tokyo Olympics quarter-final saw Great Britain propel to win bronze. However, Maddie’s career has not always been smooth sailing, having missed out on a spot in London 2012 this only spurred her dreams to wear the number 1 shirt. Maddie currently plays her club hockey in the Netherlands as she gets set for the 2022 Commonwealth Games and Paris 2024.
Sophie Radcliffe
Sophie is an endurance athlete who has completed a range of challenges including the Kinabulu Challenge, climbing Mont Blanc, numerous triathlons, and cycling the alps.
Craig Heap
In a career spanning 20 years, Craig Heap has won 14 British championship titles, led teams to Gold medals at two Commonwealth Games and competed at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. He now supports people to reach their own goals, as well as working as a high performance gymnastics coach. In 2016, Craig received huge plaudits for his work with BBC on their coverage of the gymnastics in Rio.
Chris Cook
Chris is a former competitive swimmer who swam for Great Britain in the Olympics, world championships and European championships, and competed for England in the Commonwealth Games. After competing for Great Britain for nearly 10 years Chris hung up the trunks and now works in schools to assist them in pursuit of their goals, inspiring a world class mind-set and encouraging people to follow their passion. Chris has built an impressive reputation as a motivational speaker who reflects passion to inspire and the value of respect.
Rafik Tahraoui
Rafik is a two sport international athlete representing Great Britain in both Water Polo & Handball on Olympic Programmes and at senior level for 11 years. He is also owner of multiple successful businesses within sport, property and construction sectors. Rafik holds and BSc (Hons) in Applied Sports Science and an MSc in Strength & Conditioning both from the University of Salford Manchester and has worked as a performance specialist with numerous professional & international athletes & teams for 9 years.
Layla Guscoth
Layla is one of the more experienced players in the current England Netball squad, having made her debut for the Roses in 2012. As one of the best defensive players in the country, Layla represented her nation at the home World Cup in 2019. Layla’s club netball has seen her play for prominent teams in the Netball Superleague, including Loughborough Lightning and Team Bath, before competing in the Australian Super Netball League with Adelaide Thunderbirds. A netball superstar, Layla is also an NHS doctor, juggling both her medical and international career side by side. As the coronavirus pandemic hit, Layla travelled back from Australia to work on the NHS frontline in her hometown of Birmingham. As the Commonwealth Games, hosted in Layla’s hometown, is fast approaching, Layla looks to continue her development with Team Bath and England Netball as they look to defend their Commonwealth title. Half Netballer. Half Doctor. A total inspiration.

Past projects



Nationally, the issue of inspiring girls into sport has been given enormous profile. Initiatives such as Sport England’s #thisgirlcan campaign and the Youth Sport Trust’s Girls Active programme are in full swing. X-Elle is part of United Learning’s contribution to this national priority.

"Developing confidence and life-skills in girls in and through sport”


Nationally, the issue of inspiring girls into sport has been given enormous profile. Initiatives such as Sport England’s #thisgirlcan campaign and the Youth Sport Trust’s Girls Active programme are in full swing. X-Elle is part of United Learning’s contribution to this national priority.

In February 2015, United Learning held five X-Elle days across the Group. Each day, led by four-time Olympic skier Chemmy Alcott with additional involvement of Team GB hockey star Alex Danson, involved 60 girls from across five local United Learning schools. Sessions included activity classes, acting and body confidence, healthy eating, and the drafting of pledges drawn up in partnership with Women in Sport.  Since then the 300 girls from the five days have been working hard to deliver on their pledges.

To celebrate their successes and achievements to date, we held a celebration event at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in June 2016. Over 200 of the girls from across the country came to gather for a series of awards to celebrate their individual and schools’ successes. Shoreham Academy won the X-Elle School of the Year award and Faye Smith from Sheffield Park Academy won the X-Elle Leader of the Year prize.

With additional schools working to develop X-Elle initiatives in their schools, we have met our target of reaching around 10,000 girls through this programme.  But we are not stopping there.  The new United Learning PE and Health curriculum gives schools a new opportunity to develop girls’ confidence through PE and sport, so a new set of pledges and plans will be developed in schools to continue their excellent work.



United Learning is also delighted to work in partnership with a number of charities and organisations who support our work to ensure that every single pupil receives an excellent school experience.



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