How can we increase community use of schools sports facilities?

Understanding the context

Education sites are a key provider of sports facilities in England, as they own over a third (39%) of all facilities:  77% of sports halls and 61% of artificial grass pitches are located on school, college and university sites.

Ensuring community use of these facilities is vital, especially given the pressures on local authority resources and the drive to rationalise and transform how services are delivered. Adopting a strategic approach to how the stock of facilities on school sites is viewed as part of overall facility supply, is crucial to addressing increasing demand by community groups.

Approximately two thirds (62%) of school sports facilities across England are now available for some form of community use. It is important to safeguard this access, especially given the move by many schools to academy-status with associated devolution of decision-making. In addition, the importance of the school asset, at the heart of all local communities, cannot be under-estimated, particularly as many local authorities are facing budgetary challenges in the continued provision of their public leisure facilities.

Every school site is different.  The challenge is to ensure the key decision-makers understand the benefits of having community use on their premises and those that operate their facilities adopt the best approach to meet their needs.  

A strategic approach to better utilise sports facilities on schools sites, considering the supply of these facilities alongside other provision within a locality is needed.  This will help to ensure that existing activity is not displaced, over-supply is not generated or a pricing structure is not adopted that could potentially force existing operators out of the market.

Key considerations in relation to use of schools sports facilities by the community:

  • Is there a strong commitment to community use by key stakeholders? Does, for example, community sport on school sites feature in the local authority vision for sport?  Is the contribution of schools understood and valued and is there commitment to seeing schools as a possible solution to rationalisation of wider public asset stock provision? Is there a high level local Community Champion who advocates, promotes and safeguards community sport on school sites?
  • Is there an understanding by all partners concerned of both the benefits and risks associated with community use of school sites?
  • Has a strategic approach to provision been adopted, with a clear picture of how current and potential school use complements other supply? Is the right activity happening in the right space and at the right time? Is there a network for schools to communicate with each other and sports partners about their community offer?
  • Will increased provision meet local need and is there a commitment to developing and nurturing relationships with local community groups and clubs and / or leisure operators?
  • How well are school sports facilities managed currently? Are there appropriate systems and procedures in place to protect both the school and their community users? Has the right operational model (ranging from operated by a 3rd party to fully self-manage) been selected and effectively deployed by the school? Are appropriate community use agreements in place and are bookings procedures and policies being implemented which address safeguarding, insurance and health and safety issues? Is there a programming and pricing policy that is appropriate and reflects different user groups? Is there appropriate financial planning and do schools factor in repairs and renewal costs?
  • Is there the right level of staffing to manage community use and deliver a safe, effective and sustainable service?  Are the facilities of the right standard and appropriate to the needs of users? 

How can Sport England help?

Sport England have developed Use Our School – an on-line resource to support schools and their partners in opening up and keeping open their facilities for community use. The Resource includes:

  • 14 topic pages on the most common areas of interest for schools, providing them with ideas and solutions. Including how to make the case for community use, operating safely and how to manage your finances to generate an income
  • A bank of resources comprising of practical guidance, tools, templates and examples. These include VAT Guidance, a facility pricing tool and sample job descriptions for Community Facility Managers
  • A wide range of good practice case studies, searchable by theme which cover lessons learnt, top tips and a key contact for follow up
  • Video clips from key advocates who are involved with community use of schools including Head Teachers, Governors and Clubs
  • Frequently asked questions (which will be updated on an on-going basis)
  • A feedback form where you can share your own good practice, post a query or request further support.

What's the result?

Sport England’s Use Our School resource could help you in the following areas:

  • Be better placed to work with schools strategically to increase community use
  • Have a good understanding of the education landscape in relation to overall facility supply
  • Be able to draw on tried and tested solutions and practice to help overcome common issues and challenges which may be encountered when opening up and keeping open school sports facilities for the community
  • Have improved understanding of the benefits to be gained (to the school, local community, club, and other providers) from community sport on school sites
  • Secure continued access to schools for community sport provision, and increase access to school sites based on clear local need
  • Have better throughput and utilisation of facilities on school sites.

Be more knowledgeable about sustainable practices, including appropriate financial planning and programming, leading to efficient and effective models of operation.