Birmingham Special Schools Project

Birmingham Special Schools Project

Indoor rowing in the inner city secondary schools in Birmingham has been taking place since 2004, when the Sir Steve Redgrave Trust initially helped to fund rowing machines for 20 schools. This was soon followed by the involvement of further schools supported by generous funding from Sport England, Awards for All, Heart of Birmingham Primary Care Trust and the Amateur Rowing Association (ARA) for more rowing machines, boats and professional coaches.

Since 2005 The ARA has had one full-time and two part-time coaches working with the Birmingham Schools Rowing Association (BSRA) indoor rowing project to promote rowing as a tool of engagement for activity and sport, as well as encouraging children who would never normally consider rowing to give it a try on the water.

With the ARA’s employment of coaches, the number of schools involved has risen sharply from four in the first term to 30 in 2007. Among the fifteen schools bringing pupils to the water, four are special schools. Braidwood Schools (children with hearing impairments), Baskerville (those with autism spectrum,) Hallmoor, Calthorpe and Selly Oak (all for those with moderate to severe learning difficulties).

The format for these pupils is same as for mainstream children. This is usually 6 -10 sessions on an indoor rowing machine to assess individual needs and to gain initial technique and then a block of 8 -10 weekly sessions on the water. The indoor sessions are for many children the only rowing they will take part in – and the coaches have developed a range of activities to keep pupils interested and provide teachers with ideas for sustainability. More support for rowing in the curriculum will be provided for teachers when the newly accredited Coaching for Teachers training becomes available.

Some of the children at Selly Oak School and Calthorpe have undertaken the ARA’s Junior Rowing Leaders Award. This has enabled them to take a qualification in leadership in indoor rowing and 12 of the 17 that took the award have completed it successfully, three of them helping to run a special schools indoor rowing competition.

On the water the boats used have floatation pods under each rigger to prevent capsizes and provide stability. If needed these can be removed to provide further skill development. These boats have been invaluable for the special schools and have provided the pupils with the confidence to take part in the sessions fully.

Initially the pupils are in boats that are tethered to stop them drifting off and so that the coaches can bring them back to shore if needed. Later if they are able the tethers can be removed and they can row along by themselves.

Initially the coaches thought that there would only be a small number of special schools interested in rowing on the water, but the interest is such that the local ARA C & D Team Leader, Jo Atkinson, is working to set up a Special Schools Rowing Association to enable the purchase of more equipment for those with more complex needs – such as special seats, handle holds and launching facilities, together with the funding for more coaches and coach education for the teachers.

The interest generated by the work in Birmingham has enabled the ARA to apply and receive funding through Sport England’s Club and Coach Programme for a full-time coach to set up this Association and hopefully secure its future. News of the project has spread and now Sandwell and Wyre Forest have both purchased indoor rowing machines for all their secondary and special schools. SSCo’s and teachers in both these areas have already received training from the ARA and work is ongoing to set up and link all the special schools into a West Midland Special Schools Rowing Group, with a competition for those with access to the water and indoor competitions and leagues for those without it.

Jo Atkinson
ARA C & D Team Leader
West Midlands

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