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By Pete Stephenson | 14/08/2014

Hull FC and the Boulevard Academy has celebrated their first year in partnership since the opening of the brand-new free school last year - the first of its kind in the city. 

The state-of-the-art Academy opened its doors to 40 year-seven pupils in September of 2013 in what has “exceeded levels of expectations” in its inaugural 12-months.

Hull FC’s role at the Boulevard Academy has been for the Community Foundation team to work with members of staff and specialised coaches to deliver their full Physical Education curriculum. 

The Boulevard Academy partnership is a further extension of Hull FC’s connection with the local community in an educational environment. Along with our very own FC Learning centre, partnerships with St Mary’s College and Sirius Academy has enabled Hull FC to reach and have a positive impact on thousands of children in our community trough sport, and education.        

Rachel Gay, the Community Foundation’s Education Manager, has led the delivery of the PE curriculum alongside former Hull FC and current Doncaster Rovers player Liam Cunningham, and the pupils have flourished during the first year of the project. 

She said: “This partnership has been very different to the other ones in that we are delivering the full PE curriculum and that involves a multitude of different sports.

“This is not just about rugby league by any means but our involvement ensures the pupils are getting specialised coaching in that area. Due to the club’s relationship with many external partners we have been able to bring in other specialized coaches who are each specific to one sport.

“We started out by assessing all the students to find out what their level of capabilities were by performing bleep and strength tests – that sort of thing. Then we started introducing the different sports such as Netball, Basketball, Football, Tennis, Dance, Rounders and Rugby.  

“All the pupils work together in a mixed environment (boys and girls) and spend every Thursday afternoon from 1.15 until 4.30 doing their PE lesson with us. It’s along afternoon as most schools only do 100 minutes of PE but it’s split into four different sports and the programme has been well received by everyone, and it works really well.

“When we set out on this project, our aim by the end of the first year was for every pupil to have represented the school at some form of sport and we can proudly say that we have achieved that.

“The Academy is a special place and to have something like it sitting proudly in the heart of the surrounding community is fitting to the history of what was there before it.”

The Boulevard Academy is the first ‘free school’ in Hull and is run independently of the local authority. The school began with 40 pioneering year-seven pupils and will grow year-on-year to have a final capacity of 600 and a cap of 20 children to a class that will move up to 25 in later years.

Principle, Andy Grace, believes the partnership is a perfect fit with his teaching philosophy.

He said: “It was important for me to model our provision of sport around the sports college principle, where a schools PE programme can be very enlightened by the involvement of coaches and community providers - and that’s what we set out to do from the start.

“I am a PE teacher myself, and most PE teachers will teach around four or five sports but there’s a limit to your expertise and knowledge. If you want to give youngsters high quality experiences then there is nothing like bringing in coaches who have specific knowledge in one area. 

“Along with Richard Munson and Rachel Gay, we devised a programme to deliver our PE curriculum and it’s been very successful, our students have covered 14 different sporting activities during our first year. 

“For a school to begin with such a small cohort and see every one of them represent us in a competition, at some form of sport, is an extraordinary accomplishment.

“As a result of that, the list of extra-curricular opportunities that the children have further benefited from has been quite phenomenal.

“One of our hopes was to provide as many opportunities as possible so that our youngsters would find an activity that suits them and stick with it right through their adolescence. In terms of inclusion and progression, Rachel and her team of specialist coaches have been particularly inventive in the ways of allowing youngsters opportunities to get involved with. “

“The programme really has exceeded the level of expectations when I first sat down to discuss it with Richard around about this time last year.

“We spoke about trying to create a national identity for the partnership work that we’re doing here with the rugby club in providing infrastructure for our Academy in terms of PE and sports opportunities, and I think we’re well on the way to doing that.” 

The Academy occupies the site where Hull FC’s spiritual home of the Boulevard once stood and along with the partnership the school has retained further links with the club. The Pupil’s uniform is black and white and one of the ‘houses’, that centres on sport, is named after the legendary Jonny Whitley.

There are also plans to erect a marble monument, with a seating area, where fans can reminisce about Hull FC’s vast history at the former Boulevard Stadium. The monument will be unveiled to coincide with the club’s 150th anniversary celebrations next year

Principle Grace added: “We are not a Rugby League Academy, but Hull FC are the biggest brand in this area and we sit on their former home so we wanted to do more than just pay lip service to the history of this site.” 

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