With GCSE, AS & A-Level sailing and windsurfing reinstated on the National Curriculum, this may be the perfect time for schools to introduce the sport - and take advantage of the many benefits which getting out on the water can give to young people.
Ryde School, on the Isle of Wight, introduced curriculum sailing just five years ago and are already witnessing the many positive benefits which the sport has brought to the school and students alike.
Working in partnership with Tacktisle Watersports Centre and Sea View Yacht Club, younger students are introduced to the sport through beginner courses and work towards achieving their RYA level 1 and 2. Whilst older students advance their skills through higher level coaching, race training and team racing. The school also offers weekly after school squad training sessions and some of the more advanced students also follow a GBR pathway.
Claudia Manser, Head of Sailing at Ryde, believes that students get so much from their time on the water: “For the less experienced sailor, learning how to sail and being in control of a dinghy is hugely rewarding and builds confidence, team work and resilience. For our more experienced sailors, being able to get more time on the water and access to the high level coaches we use has a really positive impact on their sailing in general.”
Benefits to students
Outdoor activities like sailing and windsurfing are hugely beneficial for both 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 RYA OnBoard Impact Report. The research with Professor 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.
Claudia agrees that sailing brings many benefits to Ryde’s students: “There are very few activities that children and teenagers can do which are as independent and challenging as sailing. Beginner sailors can often feel daunted by the prospect of being on the Solent in their own small dinghy but the progress they make is incredible and the sense of achievement is incomparable. We really try to encourage students to reflect on what they have achieved on the water and apply the processes to the classroom. Problem solving, determination and responsibility are all key in sailing and in the classroom.”
Ruby, a Year 9 student said: “It is the time when I feel most alive. There is a lot of responsibility for your actions and if no one else saw you still have to be responsible. I think it will set me up for life in future in terms of skills that I learn.”
Max, a Year 13 student added: 'It is different to anything else and nothing I know comes close to that sense of freedom from sailing. When I am racing, I don't have the capacity to think about anything else and I know it has a really positive impact on my mental health.”
Claudia added: “Seeing the positive impact we are having on students and the progress they are making, both on and off the water, is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.”
Every sailing level is catered for
Every Ryde student has an opportunity to sail; from teaching beginners through to developing talented sailors who compete at the highest levels. The journey starts in Year 5 and 6 with students achieving their RYA Level 1 & 2. As students move through Years 7 to 13 they increasingly spend more time on the water. As Claudia explains: “From the initial half day a week in the summer term, sailing this is steadily increased to an afternoon of sailing a week all year round. Our school sailing competitions are largely based around team racing and Firefly sailing so a lot of our winter sailing is focused on this and we recently invested in a fleet of Fireflys. From September 2021 we hope all 6th form students will spend a team-building weekend on a larger yacht as part of their 6th form induction.”
A lot of Ryde’s more experienced sailors move through the traditional pathway in their sailing outside school (Optimist to Tera to 420 to 29er). The school has adapted well to this and therefore looks to supplement and develop their skills on the water. Claudia adds: “The team racing is so popular with our older students and is such a change to their normal fleet racing experience. We notice a real improvement in their boat handling and understanding of the rules as a result.”
For the youngsters who don’t sail outside of school, Ryde hooks into local opportunities to increase the students racing experience, which could work well for other schools: Students in Year 10 and 11 compete in the Tuesday Night Racing series from Island Sailing Club in Cowes on two J70 boats which is used as training for the Round the Island Race. JS students take part in an annual Mermaid regatta in conjunction with Sea View Yacht Club. Whilst a bi-annual trip to the Andrew Simpson Sailing Centre in Lake Garda is also available for all senior school students of any ability to practice their skills and give the more experienced sailors the chance to try foiling.
Located on the Isle of Wight, there is a huge amount of talent and experience amongst Ryde’s parent body and local community. With many parents involved in the sport recreationally, competitively as well as professionally. Part of Ryde’s plan for the next five years is to ensure students also gain an understanding of the range of careers and opportunities in sailing beyond competition. Claudia said: “Senior school students have the opportunity to sail in every year group and it is an integral part of the curriculum for 11 and 12 year olds. Many of our alumni have gone on to study marine courses at university or take up careers in the area. In the last few years, we have had pupils leave to undertake their Yachtmaster qualification as well as degree courses in Yacht Design and Marine Engineering. And, of course, some continue to competitive sailing.”
School sailing within Covid-19 restrictions
Throughout 2020, when restrictions have allowed, the sport of sailing has shown how it can be incredibly adaptable to allow people to enjoy our sport safely and responsibility. Schools, as well as clubs up and down the country, were able to put Covid-19 measures in place, allowing children to safely return to the water.
Ryde school found the RYA guidance incredibly useful, and combined with the support for school sailing from Tacktisle, were able to start school sailing again.
As Claudia explains: “The school implemented year group bubbles for all sailing and the use of changing facilities, and briefings were held outside where possible. For the school’s more competitive sailors, and those on a pathway and competing outside school, being able to sail once term started again in September was a huge relief. For many of them, it helped to feel a sense of normality again and it is abundantly obvious the positive impact it has had on their mental health.”
“Spending an afternoon sitting in a RIB on a cold, wet December day can feel really unappealing but seeing the positive impact we are having on the students and the progress they are making both on and off the water is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.
“Covid has really helped to highlight how incredible the option to sail at school really is and has helped me to see how many more options, routes and experiences there are within the education setting.”
When restrictions were eased, and with Covid-19 safety measures in place, the school was also keen for students to experience the progressions that are taking place in the sport. The school organised a Firefly vs Foil race with an experienced wing foiler and kite foiler. This clear demonstration of the speed and agility in foiling was enjoyed by all.
During 2021, the RYA OnBoard initiative aims to increase partnerships with schools and educate teachers about all the benefits that learning to sail can being to young people. To find out more please contact Hannah Cockle, OnBoard Operations Manager: Hannah.Cockle@rya.org.uk