The coronavirus pandemic has created numerous challenges for how organisations across all different sectors operate, but it has also provided an opportunity - a chance to reflect and evaluate what was being done previously and consider is there another way of delivering a service or catering for a client’s needs.

The Three Rivers and Watford School Sports Partnership is no exception to this and school games organiser Matt Harrington is now looking at adopting a best of both worlds approach when a greater sense of normality is able to return; taking the positive aspects of how it operated prior to Covid-19 and what it has learned since.

The Rickmansworth School-hosted partnership is a collaboration of 41 schools – eight secondary, 29 primary and four infant – and has aimed to provide innovative ways to keep children active since lockdown.

Headteacher Matt Fletcher is proud the school has carried out the host role since 2005. He said: “During this time we have been recognised as one of the most successful partnerships in the country and continue to be regarded as a model of excellence.

“The support from the headteachers and staff at our partner schools during this time has been essential in ensuring thousands of children have access to a diverse and enriched provision of competition and sports leadership every year.”

Matt Harrington manages the partnership alongside Kirsty Brown, who is school games co-ordinator.

The partnership usually provides thousands of opportunities for young people, allowing them to take part in competitions ranging from inter-school upwards, and also allows children to take their first steps into officiating, coaching and volunteering by fulfilling these roles at school and partnership events.

Although the partnership has had to change and adapt due to the pandemic, Matt estimates it is currently operating at 60 per cent of normal capacity in terms of getting into schools and delivering activities, having benefited from work it was able to do at the end of the last academic year.

He said: “Around the beginning of June we approached our primary and infant schools to suggest if there was a possibility of us being allowed in school we would like to offer some socially distanced activities.

“A good ten schools allowed us to do that, so for June and July it allowed us to trial a few different sports based on the guidance. We were working with those children of key worker groups, those who were still in school, and since September that’s part of our provision. We offer two options to schools.

“For those schools that haven’t returned to team sport PE or using PE equipment we offer an option that avoids all of that. However, some schools have returned to team sports and are using PE equipment and we offer an option to them as well.

“We try to meet the needs of all different schools and their different situations because each school is very different at this stage.”

Since the start of the current academic the partnership has either operated in, or is booked to go into, 18 of the 29 primary schools before the end of term in December.

“We’re happy with that,” Matt said. “We were a little bit concerned at the start of course, but I think schools have recognised the importance…it’s not getting back to normality, but it’s giving those kids the opportunity to get active and switch off a little bit and quite often schools say its gives them a different face.

“For a lot of those kids that were part of key worker groups, they’ve been there since March throughout the whole summer and they’re seeing the same teachers again potentially.”

The partnership is providing multi-skills activities including personal challenges to retain that competitive element for those schools undertaking socially distanced PE using little or no equipment, while sports such as handball, basketball and netball are on offer to those where equipment is being used and team sport has resumed.

Watford Observer:

The partnership's annual awards were also held interactively this year

Play leader training is also being offered to pupils in Years 5 and 6, while a scheme called healthy heroes is also being taught. This was initially developed for children in Year 3 and is a two-hour workshop that covers social, mental and physical health, but due to the lack of competitive opportunities currently available it has been expanded to include Year 2 pupils.

Matt said: “At the moment it’s allowing us to go into a classroom, we can work at the front like many of the schools are suggesting, so that’s quite nice because they children are already in their bubble. Whenever we go into school we only work with that class bubble.

“If it was PE, of course we’re taking additional equipment to make sure we’re not crossing it over to multiple bubbles and we have the cleaning procedures in place.”

Paul Sutton, executive headteacher of The Orchard Primary School and Alban Wood Primary School and Nursery, feels children benefit considerably from being part of the partnership and is grateful for the activities it has been able to offer during the Covid crisis.

He said: “Being part of a partnership provides our children with a wide range of intra and inter competitions. It supports our children with their team building and sportsmanship and achieving their ‘personal best’, ensuring they are physically fit for life.

“During lockdown, we ensured that our children were still physically fit for life by sending home PE challenges and lessons. However, the weekly challenges from the partnership provided the children with the opportunity to still participate in intra and inter competitions. The adaptions of the healthy heroes and play buddy workshop for home learning meant that we were able to replicate the workshops they would have had in school.”

Watford Observer:

Arguably the biggest change the partnership has made has been the introduction of virtual competition - and it is likely this will remain part of its offer in the future.

Seven partnership events of this nature have been staged during the autumn term and recently more than 800 children from 20 schools took part in a virtual tri-golf competition.

Matt explained: “What I’ve learnt (from managing the partnership during the pandemic) is having the opportunity to adapt and what good comes out of that is that you’re meeting the need for a lot of schools that perhaps you didn’t engage with.

“When we had the normal we would put on an event such as tri-golf or a fun run where you would invite all of your primary schools to get involved. Across the 29 primary schools you would normally have half-a-dozen schools that wouldn’t be able to engage with all of those major events. That might be due to travel restrictions, the lack of availability of staff and so on.

“What it’s told us is there is a need for virtual competitions, not across the whole year, but it’s fully inclusive because schools can put these events on in school and it helps a lot of those schools out that couldn’t attend.

“It’s told us we perhaps need to consider virtual opportunities in the future, it’s allowed us to review every single thing that we’ve done to make sure that we’ve refreshed our offer and I think it has been an opportunity to develop and enhance everything that we do.

“Moving forward as restrictions are lifted, hopefully over the next year, we can really give an improved service for our schools.”

The partnership welcomes businesses to help fund or sponsor future projects and events. To find out more, email Matt Harrington at