Last weekend’s national colleges sports championships, held in Newcastle, Sunderland and Gateshead, were a huge success, judging by feedback from the students, staff and stakeholders who took part.
More than 1,800 students from 137 different colleges representing 11 regional/ national teams descended on Tyne and Wear for a three- day festival of sporting competitions.
These championships are an annual showcase for sporting competition in colleges, but they are only the tip of the iceberg.
Most of the work of the AoC Sport organisation is directed towards developing competitions within and/or between colleges in England and, most importantly, encouraging more college students aged 16 to 23 to take part in regular physical activity.
More than 250 colleges have now joined AoC Sport, which was created in August 2014, by bringing together several different college sports groups.
The reasons for joining vary from college to college, but there is no doubt that sport is an increasingly important part of the offer that colleges are making to their learners.
There are many reasons why colleges are investing time and money in sport and physical activity for students, even a time of financial austerity in the sector.
Firstly, there are important social, moral and educational reasons for offering sport in colleges.
Sport, post-16, does not need to look like a compulsory PE lesson
This country is facing a growing challenge with obesity and poor health, especially among lower socio-economic groups.
Research has shown that the most important points in a person’s life to take up regular physical activity are when they start and finish school, and the biggest drop-off point is at ages 16 to 23.
Colleges are very well placed to introduce young people to regular, enjoyable physical exercise, in part because of the important employability agenda within the sector.
Sport, post-16, does not need to look like a compulsory PE lesson.
More than 140 institutions now have college sportmakers, who were initially funded by SportEngland to lead on this work.
And, of course, all this helps colleges deliver programmes of study to their 16 to 18 year old students.
At last weekend’s championships, we had some student participants who had never left their own cities and regions before, which again illustrated the wider social benefits of the sport offer in colleges.
Secondly, employment in the sport and leisure industry across Europe is forecast to increase significantly by 2025, and most colleges now offer a range of technical and professional courses at levels one to five related to this growing industry sector, as well as an increasing number of apprenticeships with employers.
Thirdly, competitive sport in colleges can be offered on a regional and national basis at a level beyond that of the schools and training organisations which compete with colleges for 16 to 23 year olds.
The range of sports, the regional leagues and cup competitions and the national championships enable individual sporting students to compete at appropriate levels and the numbers of learners in colleges allow for competitive teams in many different sports.
There is little doubt that sport helps with student recruitment.
For many colleges, sport has also enabled them to enhance their community leadership role, developing partnerships and branding with local professional and amateur clubs, sharing facilities and building local networks.
Sports academies exist in many colleges and in many sports, from archery to table tennis, which enhance the offer to potential students and enrich the college.
At AoC Sport we have found that even colleges with few or very restricted facilities can make an interesting and engaging sport offer to students and our regional staff can advise on some of the ways to do this.
Networks of heads of sport and operational staff now exist in all regions and are supported by AoC Sport colleagues.
Having missed out previously, we are beginning to see a greater understanding of how FE can help the government to address its sport and health priorities. I hope that before long all colleges will be engaged in the world of colleges sport.