“Chance to Shine has been the turning point in our school’s life”

Oak Tree Primary School in Nottinghamshire has been involved in Chance to Shine right from its launch in 2005. This week, we caught up with the Head of PE, Paul Gash, to see how, seven years on, the programme has had a major impact on the school, the teachers and most importantly the children.


What are the challenges you face at Oak Tree Primary School?

We’re in the middle of Mansfield and have been a primary school for about 10 years now. We face a lot of social deprivation at the school: 60-70% of children are eligible for free school dinners, while 80% come from one parent families. We have the highest ratio of looked-after children in Mansfield for primary schools. Yeah, it’s a pretty tough school to work at.


How long have you been at the school and when was cricket introduced through Chance to Shine?

I’ve been here 10 years now and cricket started in 2005 (when Chance to Shine launched). We had a phone call from the local Chance to Shine man, Lee Wilkinson, who was at Mansfield and Pleasley Cricket Club. He asked us if we’d like to participate in Chance to Shine and being me, loving cricket, I said yes and it’s sort of gone from there.


What was the reaction in the school to the introduction of cricket?

There was no reaction at all because it was a step into the unknown. We had a lot of behavioural problems at the school and it was the last resort – we’ll try anything sort of thing – and luckily it’s all worked out and now it’s second nature.


Had any of the children played cricket before?

Half of them didn’t even know what cricket was! No, none of them would have played cricket before.


What have been the highlights over the past six years of Chance to Shine?

The highlights for me are seeing the children enjoying and playing cricket. We’ve had national final appearances, we’re unbeaten in seven years at Mansfield level – no one’s ever beaten us! Our girls are phenomenal. They now play in secondary school competitions and just recently won the County championships for the second time. We’re now getting children going to Mansfield and Pleasley Cricket Club and I think the last I looked, the girls’ team consisted of six of the eight in the team for Under 14s. The boys’ team is five out of the eight for the Under 11, 12 and 13 teams. We’ve got two ex-pupils who’ve gone on to County level. Yeah, it’s pretty phenomenal.


What benefits have you seen outside of cricket?

School attendance has definitely gone up, the school behaviour is a lot better, it’s not just down to cricket but it’s definitely had something to do with it. The children obviously have something to do after school now, rather than what they were getting up to – which probably isn’t that good – is now channelled into sport and that’s the biggest thing. It’s self-worth, isn’t it? They want to come to school and they want to do cricket and they want to get better and they’d rather play cricket than go round doing things they shouldn’t be doing.


What is it about the Chance to Shine sessions that help get the children to attend school?

It’s the enjoyment. If they know cricket’s on that day, they’ll come in; unless they’re really, really poorly, they’ll come to school.


Why do you think cricket can have that effect on children?

I think it’s because cricket’s a gentlemen’s game and it’s a calming game and children learn respect and the discipline as well. I always expect my team to clap the other batters off and the first time they did it they looked surprised, but now it’s just natural to them and it’s the respect they have for other people.


Tell us about instances where cricket has helped children’s behaviour.

We had one boy right at the start in 2005, who was excluded from at least two schools I can remember, came to us as a year 5, refused to come to school. He just didn’t want to come. He had played a game of cricket the day before and was quite good, but the next day he didn’t want to come to school. The school had to phone him up, but couldn’t get anywhere with him. I spoke to him on the phone and said “Could you come to school, we need cricket training, we’ve got a match coming up soon?” and five minutes later he was at school and never looked back. He successfully managed without getting into much trouble at all for the next year and a half and didn’t get excluded from our school. The first ever trophy we won, we needed quite a few off the last over, I think it was virtually six off the last ball against a school and he smacked a six and it was Roy of the Rovers fairytale stuff. He won us the cup for the first time. I remember all of his team jumped on him, he must have felt like 20 foot tall for the rest of that year!


Are there any other examples of how cricket has helped individual children?

There was one girl a couple of years ago, we were actually losing a match, it was the County semi-final and we needed a wicket off the last ball and she took one of the best catches I’ve seen off the last ball, another Roy of the Rovers fairytale. She found it very difficult to make friends but was very good at sport…and she took this catch and got us to the County Finals.


Tell us about the individual cricketing successes that you’ve had.

We’ve had three girls who have left our school and gone on to County level. We’ve had three nominations already this year for County. We’ve had the first boy nomination this year go through and two girls as well.


Had the girls who’ve gone on to County played cricket before?

No, none.


What’s the impact back in the classroom?

If school attendance is up then children are going to learn more. We’re not the greatest school for SATs results but it’s getting better and better every year. We’ve beaten our record for the past two years in SATs scores. It’s not the be all and end all. With cricket, the kids are good at something and it gives them the confidence to try other things as well.


How has it impacted the behaviour within the classroom?

Massively. We use cricket as a sanction as well. If they don’t behave, they don’t come to cricket and for some kids that’s the worst thing ever.


What’s your average Chance to Shine session?

They normally have a warm up game, we always do some fielding, we talk about lots of different skills, they obviously have a bowl and the best thing, they have a game at the end. They love to have a game at the end and, win or lose, they come off with a smile on their face, no matter what.


How has it worked with the Chance to Shine coach?

Yes, fantastic. It’s normally a coach from Mansfield and Pleasley Cricket Club, so the kids get to see a coach and when they go up to Mansfield and Pleasley it’s the same coach, so there’s continuity. It also gives them the confidence because they know somebody there and the coaches say how good they are.


Were any children going to the cricket club before Chance to Shine?

No, none whatsoever. Now, I’d say our school gives at least over half of the Mansfield Youth set up; more than half.


How have you managed to achieve sustainability in cricket at the school?

It is very sustainable, mainly because the families of our children are very big, I think the average is about six, so the siblings of every child tend to carry it on…the elder children who played in 2005, their brothers and sisters are now playing and they’ve got brothers and sisters at our school so it gets bigger and bigger and their friends want to play. It goes from there.


How have you managed to engrain cricket in the culture of the school?

I think it’s just through success. Kids love to win. They get a medal around their neck and their friends want to do it and the Year 6s do it, then the Year 5 want to see it. We make a massive deal out of it in assemblies. They come on to ‘We are the Champions’ if they’ve won anything and we make a real big thing of them and kids want to do it the year after and the year after and be part of it.


What is it about cricket that can help integrate children and help them make friends?

It’s down to a team sport. Everybody relies on everybody, so you’ve got that trust. You’ve got to trust your partner to make that call for that run, the cricket team gels together really well and I think that’s a massive contributing factor.


Does the cricket team have a certain status within the school?

Yes, massive, everyone wants to be in the cricket team, they try their hardest to be in it.


How has Chance to Shine helped you on a personal level?

It’s helped me a lot: I’ve done my Level 1 course three years ago now and then straight away went on to do my Level 2, passed and now I’m running the Mansfield girls’ team for the first time this year. My daughter’s now a County player so it’s helped her a lot with my coaching. I’m thinking of doing my next Level, but will see how it goes!


What would be your advice to teachers being offered Chance to Shine?

It is probably the best thing, it is the turning point of our school’s life – 2005 was the turning point in our school’s life. The school before 2005 was not the best school to work at but now it is an outstanding school to work at. The confidence the children, to channel them into something worthwhile and to see the success we’ve had and to see their faces when they’re winning things. I’d recommend any school to go for it.


What if a teacher is not skilled in cricket?

It makes no difference, if you’ve got no interest in cricket at all, the coach helps you in everything and by the end of it you’ll be running lessons. We’ve got one teacher who’s just done her Cricket for Teachers course, she had no interest in cricket at all, had her Chance to Shine sessions and she loves it. Kwik Cricket is not complicated at all.


What are the advantages of playing cricket from a teacher’s perspective?

The girls can match the boys. In football, some (not all) girls can be pushed off the ball quite easily. In cricket, most of our girls outshine our boys and confidence wise for girls it’s massive. Every single kid in my class loves to play cricket, all 30 of them. They even give up their afternoon break and want it at the end of the day so they can go out and play a game of cricket for the last 15 minutes!


What advice would you give other schools for sustaining cricket?

You have to be very motivated as a teacher. You’ve got to put the work in. Nothing comes easy. It’s taken us two or three years. Now we’ve got three teachers who’ve done their Cricket for Teachers course. When you see the success it’s having and the difference it’s having on the kids, other teachers then take notice and think ‘yeah it’s working’ and do it in the classes as well. You do have to work at it.


Finally, please sum up your Chance to Shine experience.

As I say, it’s been the turning point in our school. It has been a massive thing for our kids to get off the streets, not to be in trouble from things, the boost in lessons. It has been one of the best things we’ve ever done at school, for me personally, for some of the kids, some of the kids’ experiences. You can’t buy some of the experiences these kids have had. They don’t get a lot on this estate but through cricket they’ve had a chance to shine!


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