Evolving sport at the historic Buckinghamshire School

The sporting ethos and philosophy at Swanbourne House School, an independent day and boarding school just 20 minutes from central Milton Keynes, is clear.

“Perseverance in sport is key – and we teach that to all our pupils” said Mr Paul Burton-Pye, Director of Sport at Swanbourne House. “Persevering, as both an individual and as part of a team, is what drives both personal and sporting success. The exposure we can give to such a wide range of sports and activities means each child can discover their physical strengths and talents, whilst developing mental and physical resilience.”

Mr Burton-Pye joined Swanbourne House in September last year, and has been hard at work in taking steps to drive forward sporting excellence at the school. Mr Burton-Pye has 25 years’ teaching experience and achieved a number of nationally recognised coaching badges. He has played numerous sports at different levels and his current passion is ultra-marathons and Ironman.

“I believe in a positive, dynamic and energetic approach to the teaching of sport at Swanbourne. We’re creating a stimulating learning environment that celebrates the achievements of every individual and enables them to reach their full potential in all aspects of their development. We have a competitive approach but it’s not a ‘win at all cost’ mentality, my approach is this - if you’re more skilful than your opponents, you should win, if you’re fitter than your opponents, you should win.

“If we don’t win we congratulate the other team, we’re gracious in defeat. We go away, reflect, improve and come back stronger and hungrier - winning and losing are life skills and we teach our students how to deal with both equally.”

The facilities at the school, nestled in 55 acres of Buckinghamshire countryside, include a cricket pitch with pavilion, a 20m indoor pool, all-weather tennis and netball courts, astro-turf hockey pitches, a dance and gymnastics studio, football pitches, indoor basketball courts, indoor and outdoor cricket nets, a rugby pitch and a six-hole golf course.

The extensive sporting facilities are complimented by a talented and experienced Sports Department that takes in both permanent full-time teachers and professional coaches that come in to teach specific sports. There are external coaches for rugby, netball, cricket, football and hockey in lessons, and opportunities for specialist additional coaching in tennis, golf, swimming, fencing amongst others in clubs and enrichment programmes.

The sporting calendar is traditional in terms of summer and winter sports, however with the facilities and coaching opportunities available, most sports are played in some capacity all year round – not just in their traditional season.

“The main summer sport is cricket but we have provision throughout the year. Sport is inclusive at Swanbourne and from our 7s upwards, both girls and boys take part in an extensive summer fixture programme that allows every child to play regularly, and we have also have the indoor nets for the winter months. Those that show a particular talent and passion can take part in our Winter Training Programme.”

The extensive grounds at Swanbourne make for an incredible cross-country course in the winter months – there is the challenge of the Swanbourne Endeavour, a gruelling, wet and muddy obstacle race and the Swanbourne Chase, the famous inter-prep school competition that attracts over 300 entrants each year.

During the lockdown, the school was determined that its sporting ethos remained. The challenge for the Sports Department was to look at ways to ensure the sporting curriculum could continue to be delivered in an engaging and effective way, and pupils could be continuously supported in keeping active and developing their sporting skills whilst the school was temporarily closed.

The team put into place a programme of virtual, interactive sports lessons for pupils to do at home with remote support from their teachers. The sports staff filmed drills, talking the pupils through skill practices that would help develop and sharpen techniques whilst away from school. As an example, when the lockdown happened the school was entering into its cricket season – the challenge for the Sports Department was how to teach such an outdoor sport virtually for pupils at home. Mr Burton-Pye explains: “Our cricket facilities here at Swanbourne House are second to none and provide an amazing space for the children to develop into cricketers. However, we needed to create lessons away from these facilities that would be fun, provide a challenge and help hone and develop skills. We filmed a series of virtual cricket lessons for pupils that broke down and demonstrated different drills, working on bowling, batting and fielding. All of the interactive drills could be followed step by step, with detailed instructions from our team, and using items around the home such as chairs, walls and tennis rackets.”

Although sport is taken seriously, enjoyment is vital for Mr Burton-Pye, “We have a broad range of sporting activities on offer and we ensure they are all done in an enjoyable environment that allows all children to develop an interest and enthusiasm for sport that they will carry with them throughout their life. The rationale around this broad selection of activities is based not only on the school’s aims but around published research that suggests variety, not specialisation, is the most beneficial approach to children’s sporting and physical development.”

Swanbourne House is an independent day and boarding prep school for 3 – 13 years. The school is set in 55 acres of Buckinghamshire countryside just 20 minutes from central Milton Keynes. Find out more and see our virtual tour online at swanbourne.org or email admissions@swanbourne.org or call 01296 720264

Mr Paul Burton-Pye Swanbourne  House School
Mr Paul Burton-Pye Swanbourne House School