The Surval Sports Programme: closing the gap between school sport and sport for life

17 November 2023


At Surval Montreux we have one mission; to equip girls with tools which support them for life, be this in Language, Culture, Creative Pursuit or Physical Endeavour. Regardless of the setting, a Survalienne should leave us feeling empowered. 


Team sports and girls' participation

We speak often about the benefits of a Surval education, highlighting the unique ways in which being in a small, all-girls setting can benefit your daughter. When specifically looking at our sporting offering, it is often assumed that this somehow limits our ability to offer high quality, cutting edge provision. However, when considering the purpose of school sports, this is based on the assumption that the usual offering of team sports by the majority of other schools, is provided due to their superiority in developing a student's sporting engagement. An assumption which has, I believe, become outdated.

43% of girls in UK schools ‘used to be sporty’- 15% were ‘never sporty’, and despite 9/10 girls knowing the importance of physical activity, more girls than boys continue to disengage from sport during puberty (Women in Sport, 2022, p6). Two key factors continue to hinder girls' participation in sport: a lack of relatable influencers, and irrelevant activities offered during school sports lessons (Women in sport, 2022, p18).
When considering the purpose of school sports, at its foundation, fostering a love of sport which continues beyond school years should be the priority. However, striving for lifelong participation requires schools to understand how sport is consumed beyond school, predominantly through ‘lifestyle activities’ (Ross et al., 1987, cited in Fairclough et al., 2002). Lifestyle activities are defined as activities which can be undertaken alone or with one other person, and which can be accessed without stringent time constraints. For our young globally minded women, this is fundamental; balancing a career around the potential pressures of family life, means that their activity choices need to be flexible, non-location or cultural specific. So while common in schools, team activities contrast with the activities that students are most likely to access as adults. Thus, if the role of school sport is to promote lifelong participation for every girl, in my opinion, lifestyle sports must be prioritised.



Individual sports for life: a benefit of being a small school

‘So if these types of sports are so key, why aren’t other schools doing the same?’
School sport has 3 major considerations: facilities, workforce and funding. When operating in a larger school, there is typically 1 PE teacher to around 25 students, so instead, these individual activities are often marginalised by the dominance of games, largely due to workforce expertise (Fairclough et al., 2002), and the inequitable staff-student ratios (Jones, 2016). 
Enter the Surval advantage. 
In a small school, where all teachers can support provision with specialist external providers, we are able to facilitate a unique offering which allows girls a wider choice of activity in a selection of sports they are more likely to be motivated and able to access for life: Tennis, Fitness, Golf, Running, Horse Riding, Yoga, Sailing, Hiking, Climbing & Winter Sports. That said, of course, where there is interest, team sports are always offered, be that on a recreational basis with Saturday morning sessions, or in a more competitive forum. 
Having administered sport in both UK all-girls Independent schools, and International co-educational schools, I have worked on many approaches to encouraging girls to participate in school sport. Notably, during my time in the UK, at a more traditional school, all girls were channelled into team sports, yet, 10 years on from this, of even the keenest games players, 87% had moved away from team sports and into individual lifestyle sports. Sadly, ⅓ of students had not continued with any participation beyond their compulsory 7 years, showing very little success in fostering a love of physical activity through compulsory games. Naturally, there was a continued battle with many students over participation, something I am delighted to note which does not exist at Surval. Correspondingly, research from Allender et al., (2006) highlight the barriers to lifelong participation compulsory team sport can in fact create due to the likely absence of fun and thus motivation towards any physical activity.


The goal of lifelong participation in sport and exercise, as an outcome for every student is fundamental in my leadership of Surval sport; I believe it to be the priority, given school sport’s impact on the long-term health and fitness of children (Shepard and Trudeau, 2000). Guided by both theory and practice, we prioritise recreational participation for students, with competitive success as a supplementary benefit, and only where desired by the individual. 


Student choice is something we continually seek to safeguard at Surval, knowing that where students have autonomy, relatedness and competence, motivation is likely to be fostered (How et al., 2013; Deci and Ryan, 2000).  And the results speak for themselves; there is no queue outside the nurse’s office, instead, Thursdays have become a ‘buzz’ day where girls arrive on time and prepared for their sessions, and of course, staff are just as keen, knowing they are supporting girls who want to be there.


Students at Surval, I would argue, have a unique opportunity and freedom to experience the best version of school sport, which nurtures their confidence to participate in an activity they enjoy, available to them for life, closing the gap between the school sport experience and their lifelong physical endeavour.


Mrs Jess Byrne, Head of Enrichment at Surval Montreux