All schools have sports facilities. But the standard of sport they facilitate varies.
In this post I’ll expand on the Typical Facilities in UK Schools post to help you navigate your way around school sports facilities. What facilities might you expect at a primary or secondary school? And how do you know when a school has good sports facilities?
Consider them in four main categories; indoor sports, outdoor sports, swimming and other sports.
Indoor sports facilities; the multi-purpose school hall
So, let’s start with the humble multi-purpose hall that at, primary level, facilitates indoor sports; PE lessons, and games on a wet day. Look for the floor markings and wall mounted bars. It’s called multi-purpose because it is also where assemblies and other school gatherings, such as prize giving, take place. Added to that you may see a stage and lighting rigging for music or theatrical performances. Some schools don’t have a multi-purpose hall. If they are preps and primaries, they’ll use a church or village hall. Some 6th Form colleges don’t have a hall, using a local theatre or civic centre if and when the whole college needs to come together.
The sports hall and the gymnasium
One step up on the indoor sports facility hierarchy is the sports hall. A sports hall provides more room for indoor sports such as netball, 5 a side football, indoor hockey, badminton, basketball, and a whole host of others. It’s preferable for Key Stage 2 and upwards. But, as you might guess, sports halls aren’t just large, high-ceilinged spaces, with equipment storage, changing rooms and a few hoops and floor markings.
Firstly, they differ in size. At senior school, you need to be considering size; 4, 5 or even 6 (badminton) court size. Secondly, they differ in floor surfaces (wood, synthetic) and markings to reflect both multi-purpose or specialised sport use and economy or performance considerations. Is there an electronic scoreboard? Is there a viewing gallery? Most senior school sports halls cater for a variety of sports, hence the myriad of floor markings, gymnastic equipment, trampolines, hoops, goals and cricket nets. But specialised sports facilities are not uncommon.
Thirdly they differ in the number of adjunct rooms. Those rooms can be exercise, martial arts and dance studios with appropriately sprung floors. Some schools have a fencing salle. There may be fitness or conditioning suites, with cardiovascular machines, a weights room, or an indoor rowing room.
A gymnasium can be one of two things. In many cases it’s the indoor facility a school used to use before it got a sports hall. It serves as a smaller sports hall for gymnastics, martial arts and general PE. In other cases, it’s a synonym for one of the sports hall adjunct rooms either for weights and conditioning, or floor-based exercises such as dance.
Playing fields and sports pitches
Now we move to facilities to enable outdoor sports. Starting with the playground; tarmac or concrete and often marked for football, netball or basketball. A popular investment a few years ago was the adventure playground for younger pupils. That included climbing frames in all sorts of designs and trim trails.
A step up is the Multi Use Games Area, or MUGA, with its rubber crumb surface. Popular targets for investment today at both primary and secondary schools it enables sports that rely on a flat playing surface such as tennis or hockey.
Moving up from MUGAs are the various forms of artificial pitch; 2G, 3G, 4G, sand and water-based Astroturf. These accommodate all the usual outdoor sports in particular football, hockey, tennis, netball and basketball. Size is all important here; is it quarter, half or full size? And floodlighting. Accreditation from sporting authorities such as the FA, RFU, LTA indicates that a high level of sporting activity takes place at the school. Even without the accreditations, artificial pitches enable outdoor sports all year round. Its very common to see hockey and netball pitches repurposed to tennis courts in the summer.
A minority of schools, independent and state, have synthetic athletics tracks, which are superior to grass tracks. Some schools even have synthetic sprinting tracks.
The most traditional of outdoor sports facilities is the grass pitch. At its most basic, a field, a sporting facility for dry weather. The field is marked for football and/or rugby in winter months, athletics and cricket or rounders in summer. Pitches at most primary and prep schools, if they have them, are fields. Moving up a level (usually at secondary school) fields become pitches when they are tended to by grounds staff. They are properly irrigated, levelled, sand dressed, seeded and maintained. There are fields for football, rugby, hockey, maybe lacrosse. These give way to cricket, rounders and athletics in the summer. Differentiating factors include size of pitches and quality of the grass/turf, permanence and quality of the cricket squares, and of course the pavilion(s). Sports body approval is one indicator of quality, whether professional teams use the facilities is another.
The third major school sports facility to consider is the swimming pool. It’s a requirement for primary pupils to have swimming lessons as part of the curriculum. So, every school makes use of a swimming facility, be it proprietary or community based.
Nearly 40% of independent senior schools have their own pool. The number is closer to 12% for state secondary schools. At the primary level it’s 33% for preps and around 3% for state.
But there are swimming pools and there are swimming pools. At the primary level one in five pools is outdoor. Which is fine for a summer splash when the sun comes out. But not that useful as a year-round water sports enabling facility.
And then, of course, there’s size. A pool has to be a suitable size for competition and water sports. At primary level, there’s nothing wrong with smaller, learner pools. But at senior schools, you’re looking for a pool over 20m in length. New build and community pools tend to be 25m long. Of course, there are a handful of schools with 50m 8 lane Olympic standard pools, but a school standard tends to be a 25m pool with 4 or 6 lanes.
Other school sports facilities
Beyond the main three categories of sports facilities there are a whole host of facilities for the minor sports. But because these sports are less popular, fewer schools provide facilities for them. And then the condition of those facilities can be variable. Squash courts, for example, can often look as though they need a lick of paint. But there are some excellent glass-backed courts around too. Fives courts invariably look tatty, as do indoor shooting ranges.
At the other end of the scale, there are some schools that can differentiate their sporting offer with remarkable facilities for minor sports. I counted 18 with equestrian facilities complete with manèges, arenas and stabling. Nearer 50 have a rowing boathouse, and a similar number have a golf course. There are a handful with their own boating lake, one has its own water sports centre, and one has its own ocean-going yacht.
Irrespective of the condition of the facilities, within reason, more facilities should be an indicator of more sports. A broader sports curriculum. But equally, the specification of those facilities will dictate the standard of sport played.