When Jonathan Smith and Jo Goode went along to Windermere Outdoor Adventure Centre to give sailing a go again after a 15-year absence, the husband and wife didn’t imagine it would change the lives of the children at the primary school they work at.

But four years on and sailing is now part of the PE curriculum at the 75-pupil state Grasmere Primary School in the Lake District, and up to 12 children a week are getting OnBoard and sailing at Windermere every Wednesday and Saturday during the summer term.

Why? Because Jo, the Head, and Jonathan, the school’s Business Manager, quickly recognised the personal development and subsequent educational benefits that sailing could bring to their pupils aged between eight and 11 at Grasmere.

It has been a decision that has paid off.

“We see the transference of confidence levels they gain through sailing feed directly into their academic studies,” Jo explains.

“We have children who it has absolutely transformed; they have found their ‘thing’ in sailing. They feel a sense of achievement from doing something on their own and it gives them greater confidence, which is reflected in the classroom, even, for example, not being afraid to ask for help or put their hand up and answer a question.

“Sailing changes so fast and it teaches them how to read a situation and deal with problems from an early age. That can be in pairs and communicating to patiently solve problems together or as an individual listening to instructions and carrying them out. These are skills that constantly feed into academic learning and later life.

“Many children say being on the water is the first time in their lives they have felt freedom like it. The skill is in keeping the boat upright. There are no mums and dads telling them what to do, they can make the boat go as fast as they can and it is all on them. The adrenaline and independence they get from it is amazing.”

In addition to the transferable life skills the pupils develop through sailing, there are practical academic lessons to be learned too in terms of children getting an early grasp of subjects like physics, maths, meteorology and geography.

Even if pupils are still too young to recognise what they are learning in subject terms, they can understand how something looks and feels. Teachers can then relate topics to sailing and say ‘you know when you’re sailing, this is what is going on.’

Getting the building blocks in place


It is one thing wanting to put sailing on your school PE curriculum it is another to do it. In Jonny Cormack, Centre Co-Ordinator at Windermere, Grasmere found their answer.

The centre accommodated two-hour sessions exclusively for Grasmere pupils after school on Wednesdays, in which pupils work on Stage 1 and 2 certificates. Then, once they have achieved Stage 1 they can start to attend the centre’s own OnBoard club on Saturdays, with transport taken care of by the school too.

For Grasmere it is important there is no financial burden on the parents or children and Jonathan continues to work to leverage funding to cover the costs of the sessions and all the logistics, including receiving a grant from the RYA Foundation.

Because of where the school is located, many parents are employed in the hospitality and tourism industries and so work at the weekends. This is why Jonathan gives up his own time on Saturdays to drive pupils to the OnBoard sessions.

He admits it has been challenging at times, but insists it does not take long for potential funders to see the academic justification for sailing on the curriculum.

Jonathan continues: “None of our pupils have ever sailed before and they go from having never been in a boat to working through Stage 1 to Stage 3 and acquire so many skills that are going to be with them forever. The value is clear across their whole school life, not just their academic attainment but their social skills too.

"They are in control; they sit in the middle of Lake Windermere in a Force 2-3 and they sail that boat. It really is a life-changing thing for some of them, a revelation.”

An OnBoard model for learning


An added bonus for the centre is the enthusiasm of the Grasmere parents, with a number already taking courses at Windermere. By running taster sessions for families straight after a session, parents and siblings can try sailing too.

Some of the older OnBoarders have trained as Assistant Instructors and instructors and a developing link between the centre and the Royal Windermere YC is giving the youngsters a chance to continue and improve at racing. This all ties in with Grasmere’s curricular PE aims of engaging pupils in a lifelong love for being active and to learn about themselves and how they operate as individuals.

There is absolutely no question that it is Jonathan and Jo’s own personal passion for sailing and their belief in the benefits it brings that has driven Grasmere’s success. But for Windermere it has been an equally valuable learning exercise in recognising the best way to get more schools engaged with OnBoard.

“What Grasmere do is everything we would want as a centre,” Jonny concludes. “Get the teachers first. Don’t just go into schools and tell them about OnBoard, go and pick the teachers up, give them a taster or two, show them the centre and let them experience for themselves what their pupils could. It is the ideal model.”