Bingley Grammar School getting a kick out of boots for Africa

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Ben McGregor with the boots that are going to Jamhuri High School in central Nairobi Ben McGregor with the boots that are going to Jamhuri High School in central Nairobi

Ben McGregor has been teaching for 13 years at Bingley Grammar School.

But there is little doubt as to what the best week’s work has been in that time for the director of physical education.

It was in this year’s February half-term when he visited their partner African school in Kenya, some of whose pupils live in extreme poverty and come from Kibera - one of the world’s largest slums.

Jamhuri High - an all-boys’ school in the Ngara region of central Nairobi - had an untapped potential for sport and, on the back of the success by the Kenyan national sevens team, particularly for rugby union.

The trend had been noticed last June when Jamal Parapia, director of modern foreign languages at Bingley Grammar, visited Jamhuri High to forge a successful link between the schools.

Mr McGregor said: “I have enjoyed many fantastic moments at Bingley Grammar School, but the best week of my teaching career was going to Jamhuri in February.

“On his return from Africa last summer, Mr Parapia met with me, explaining that he was really keen to set up a sporting link with Jamhuri.

“The initial idea evolved from planning a week’s coaching to planning a leadership course that would provide a much more sustainable model for the students at Jamhuri.

“We realised that it was important that when we left Jamhuri, our work should continue.”

Mr McGregor added: “At Bingley Grammar School, we have been working with Neil Spence and Hamish Pratt from the Rugby Football Union as part of their work to improve the quality of teaching and coaching rugby.

“As part of this programme, Neil has been helping me to deliver the RFU’s Key Stage Four leaders’ award.

“This course has been incredibly successful in our school, vastly increasing the number of young leaders within the school. It seemed the obvious choice to deliver this award in Kenya.”

Apart from Mr McGregor, accompanying him to Kenya in February were science teacher Chris Chapman - a first XV player at Ilkley RUFC - Mr Parapia and behaviour support manager Ben Webster.

Mr McGregor added: “After travelling for 34 hours, we arrived in Ngara at about 1am before reaching Jamhuri at 7.30am to be greeted by the principal, and taken into a whole-school assembly.

“We were asked to speak to the students, and it was at this point that I realised what an amazing week we were potentially going to have.

“I spoke about how proud I was to be working at Jamhuri and that I was looking forward to delivering our rugby leaders’ award.

“I was taken aback by the response. The students cheered and then the head boy replied, stating we were truly welcome and that he was excited to be working with us.”

Sessions began that morning in Form Three and Form Four with 16 to 18 year olds, and they took charge of their own warm-up activities, and it soon became clear that they really enjoyed rugby but lacked help in developing game play.

Core values and the importance of fair play were passed on to the students, and, led by the school prefects, by the end of the week all the pupils were not only running their own warm-up activities but also skills-based sessions in game coaching and refereeing.

Each day, there were also sessions with Form One and Form Two students, who were aged from 14 to 16 and had never played rugby before.

However, by the end of the week they understood the sport’s basic rules.

Every night there were also extra-curricular coaching sessions on specific phases of play (with the more experienced pupils) or handling skills and contact work (with the younger pupils), and the following morning the students showed that they had retained all that knowledge - even down to things like drift defence.

As the pupils became more confident, the focus was shifted to refereeing, in-game coaching and developing subject knowledge.

By the final day, each group had a team manager, a warm-up coach, a skills coach and an in-game coach.

The older students then had two hours in the morning to prepare their team for a tournament in the afternoon.

The older students not only organised the tournament but refereed it, coached it and managed it. Students even allocated their own fair-play officers.

Mr McGregor added: “At the end of the tournament, we presented the older students with their leaders’ award certificates, and the winning team with medals.

“The students were so proud to receive their cetificates and wear their medals.

“The tournament was truly one of the proudest moments of my teaching career.

“As a group of teachers, we had developed students into young leaders who had the skill sets to organise, manage and coach each other.

“It was also clear that our work had become sustainable and students will continue the work we have started.”

Not everything in the Kenyan rugby garden is rosy, however.

Mr McGregor explained: “We are currently fund-raising to provide a kit for the students when they play other schools.

“Also we are setting up a programme at our school where students will donate their old boots to the students at Jamhuri.

“There’s a definite need for boots. I’ll never forget the Jamhuri school team’s scrum half kicking a penalty from just short of halfway in bare feet.

“I think I’d have broken my toes even attempting that.”

If you would like to help Bingley Grammar School to help Jamhuri High School, then e-mail ben.mcgregor@bingleygrammar.org.

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