The multiple benefits of schools and colleges employing a full-time rugby officer continue to grow, both on the field, with increased participation in all forms of the game by girls and boys of all ages and abilities, and off it, using rugby to give pupils valuable leadership skills, improve behaviour and attitudes towards learning.
There are now 87 full-time rugby officers employed by schools, colleges and Universities around Wales to increase rugby participation by boys and girls of all abilities, but also strengthen local clubs, and develop young leaders.
The Minister for Social Services and Public Health, Rebecca Evans AM visited Haverfordwest RFC, witnessing some of these results for herself.
She attended a tag rugby festival for primary school boys and girls from the Haverfordwest and Milford Haven areas. The festival was run by Milford Haven Comprehensive School and Pembrokeshire College pupils, supported by the hub officers of the school and college, Stephen Martin and Lloyd Phillips.
She said: “We have got a proud rugby heritage here in Wales. Prop Rob Evans, from Haverfordwest, is making a huge impact in the Six Nations and I’m sure the young people here today are looking up to him as a local hero and an inspiration.
“It’s been great to see, first hand, the excellent work being done through the Welsh Rugby Union’s School Club Hub Programme to encourage girls and boys to play rugby with the support and guidance of the Rugby Officers and trained rugby leaders. The physical benefits are clear to see, but the impact of the game on social skills, leadership and behaviour overall is something to be celebrated.”
Around Wales, 2000 young people have qualified as rugby leaders through the school club hub initiative, which means they are qualified to deliver tag rugby to younger children.
School club hub pupils have also had the chance to become referees – more than 200 have completed the Level 1 Referee course this season – and many of these are now enabling more school and club matches to go ahead.
The rugby leaders and pupil referees are significantly adding to the ability of PE departments to fulfil matches and deliver rugby within primary schools, and the leaders are also helping their local clubs and communities while increasing their own social and employment opportunities for the future.
Since September, the Milford Haven and Pembrokeshire hub officers, with support from older pupils who have qualified as rugby leaders, have delivered 164 rugby sessions to their local primary schools, engaging 600 boys and 350 girls in regular sport. In addition, the hub officers have run seven primary school festivals engaging 250 boys and girls.
A key aim of the school club hub initiative is to help local clubs to be sustainable by working with them to engage pupils playing rugby in school with sport outside school.
One of the successes over the last year across Wales has been the establishment of 27 girls-only cluster centres which saw more than 2000 girls aged under 9 to under 15 regularly participate in rugby, helping to more than double the female playing population in Wales. The school club hub officers play an important role in introducing rugby to girls around Wales and sign-posting them towards cluster centres. The Cleddau Wildcats cluster is based at Haverfordwest RFC and in its first season had more than 80 members participating in weekly rugby sessions.
Around Wales, school club hub officers have been identified as providing positive role models within the school or college, and in some cases, they carry out a specific role to help mentor pupils to improve behaviour and attitude towards learning, using rugby as a motivating factor.
Milford Haven School hub officer Stephen Martin said, “When I took up this role, two boys were identified for their disruptive behaviour and receiving consequence forms throughout the week, often on a daily. However, they are both very good rugby players, and this helped me to engage with them in a positive way. Every morning they come to my office for a chat about how the previous day went and plan for the next day. The consequence forms are becoming less frequent to such an extent that neither of the boys received one last half term, which is a huge improvement.”
Rod Francis, Milford Haven School head teacher said, “As a school, we have seen multiple benefits of engaging with the hub officer initiative. In a relatively short time since his appointment (September 2015), Stephen (Martin) has dramatically increased the habitual participation of boys and girls in all aspects of rugby within the school environment, from fun touch rugby at break time to year group training sessions and increased number and quality of matches .
“In addition the work he has done with the older pupils in helping them to complete the Rugby Leaders course and utilising them to deliver rugby to primary schools, not only benefits their personal development but promotes the positive aspects of rugby and sport generally to the primary school pupils and helps strengthen our links with our feeder schools, while the local rugby clubs are also seeing the benefit with increased membership.”
WRU Head of Rugby participation Ryan Jones said: “We constantly receive positive news regarding the wide-ranging impact of school club hub officers on pupils around Wales. We know that hub officers facilitate our purpose of engaging more people, more often, with more enjoyment and more success in our national game, both within the school environment and by linking with local clubs, not only helping the health of Welsh rugby, but the health of the nation.
“However, it is even more encouraging to hear that rugby, through the work of the hub officer, is helping to enrich lives by helping pupils to engage more with their education, their community and improve their own outlook on life and future prospects by improving confidence and developing skills such as leadership.”