Whilst the start of the school term has looked very different for many this year, there’s positive news for young sailors and windsurfers with both activities now offered once again for GCSE, AS and A-Level Physical Education (PE).

Last September, the Department for Education (DfE) published revised activity lists for GCSE, AS and A-level PE. The new activities, including sailing and windsurfing, are now able to be taught and will be assessed in 2021 for AS-level and 2022 for GCSE and A-level. 

The Awarding Body, AQA recently published new specification documents, which include the assessment criteria for sailing and windsurfing and are now available on their website.

Amanda Van Santen, Chief Instructor of the RYA Sailing and Windsurfing training schemes commented: “It’s fantastic to see sailing and windsurfing ‘officially’ reinstated within the PE activity lists. The RYA has worked closely with AQA over the last year to develop the specified criteria for assessment, and we’re delighted to now see this come into effect.

Outdoor activities like sailing and windsurfing are hugely beneficial for both our physical and mental health, but have also been shown to help young people develop self-confidence, independence and other positive character attributes as evidenced in the recent RYA OnBoard Impact Report.

“We hope that the inclusion of sailing and windsurfing within the PE curriculum will not only provide a means of recognition of the hard work and dedication of the many young people already participating on a regular basis, but that it will also inspire even more to get afloat and benefit from taking part in these activities," Amanda added. 

More than just a qualification

Being on the water creates multiple situations where young people are challenged and tested as they learn a new sport or activity. The OnBoard programme provides a safe and proven structure for this to happen and a great environment to help young sailors to develop the OnBoard character attributes and capabilities that are so important for success in later life.

Hannah Cockle, RYA OnBoard Operations Officer said: “This is brilliant news and I’m hugely excited that more young people will get involved with our sport through their schools. However, the opportunity of learning to sail and windsurf with their school brings so many more benefits to young people than simply acquiring a new skill or a piece of paper with a grade.”

Hannah adds: “More than ever, this year also demonstrates just how important and beneficial outdoor activities like sailing and windsurfing are for our physical and mental health – to young and old alike. With sailing and windsurfing back on the curriculum, I hope schools and teachers will look to our sport and realise the full potential that it can bring to their students.”

OnBoard at school

There is an almost universal consensus now that character, as well as examination results, has a significant role to play in shaping young people's life chances, and these character 'skills' are much sought after by employers too.

For several years now the Department for Education has recognised the importance of developing character in schools and has committed to helping them ensure more children develop character traits, attributes and behaviours that underpin success in education and work. In November 2019 the DfE published the Character Education Framework Guidance, which you can read more about here.

Hannah continues: “Our research with Prof Bill Lucas and the University of Winchester shows that by learning and participating in sailing, young people are likely to benefit from a wide range of outcomes as well as providing a variety of valuable life skills that can be applied at school.

“Next year we aim to increase our partnerships with schools and educate teachers about all the benefits that learning to sail can being to young people, and how this can be applied in the school environment.”

The six character attributes, which the RYA OnBoard Impact Report identified - along with the meaning of the words interpreted in a sailing context and their definitions - are:

 Creativity
1. The ability to have a good idea when needed
2. Can see how different experiences can be connected

Confidence
1. Self-belief
2.Happy to learn from mistakes

Teamwork
1. Can communicate well with others 
2.Capacity to see the world from someone else's perspective

Communication
1. Able to listen carefully an offer an opinion
2. Can match language to audience

Determination 
1. Sticks with difficulty
2. Bounces back after set-backs

Independence
1. Can make a decision
2.Happy to ask for help or advice as required

In addition, researchers found several more outcomes which can be applied in a school setting:

  • Contribute to a wider personal and social development. This includes enhancing social skills with both peers and adults; helping to build maturity; build on the ability to accept responsibility, and concentrate better on tasks
  • Develop a feeling of being more supported by their peers. Youngsters also felt more relaxed and confident in themselves following an OnBoard session
  • OnBoard plays an important role in tackling social injustice. It provides unique experiences to those from disadvantaged backgrounds and can help to develop self-confidence and open up further opportunities

  • OnBoard sessions are enjoyed by almost all participants

  • OnBoard sessions in particular help develop the attributes of teamwork, communication and confidence – all vital skills in the classroom.

Hannah adds: “For example, through learning to sail and mastering an exciting activity, which they may have never considered doing before, young peoples’ levels of confidence can increase. This positive experience, along with the boost in confidence it brings, can be translated back into the classroom to help tackle other school-work which a child may find challenging.”

A teacher comments: "I have definitely seen a lot of their confidence improve, and I think they have learned how to assert themselves a bit more. They are in a pair working with someone and one of them has got to decide what they are going to do or who is going to do what. You can see some of them who probably wouldn’t take much control or take the lead of things at school, but out here they are 'do this, pick that up, pull that in'."

The RYA continue to work with the other Awarding Bodies to assist with the development of assessment criteria and reinstatement of the activities, however the final decision and content of the criteria remains with each individual body. 

Students wishing to take PE at GCSE, AS or A-level and to have sailing or windsurfing assessed as one of the activities, should speak directly to their school to determine which Awarding Body they use and the criteria, assessment and evidence required.