Gareth Davis, Head of Region for South Yorkshire at the Yorkshire Cricket Board (YCB) talked me through some of the development work being done in schools.
The ECB’s national programmes of All Stars and Dynamos; those eight weeks of cricket sessions at clubs for young children, have been the remarkable catalyst for a new generation discovering the game.
Despite the cost of living crisis and a wet summer, more than 8,500 children, with 750 fully funded places (for those in deprived areas who couldn’t afford to pay for the programme) were delivered across Yorkshire in 2023 and for some, that connection to cricket started at school.
Strategically, the focus from the ECB has switched in recent years to primary school-aged children to inspire them into cricket earlier.
In an ideal world – and this already happens in some areas but perhaps not at the scale anyone would want if they had limitless resources – there is a crucial link between cricket taught in schools by the Yorkshire Cricket Board and that stepping stone of a local club to build on the interest for kids.
Gareth’s belief is that the first impression of cricket for a boy or girl is absolutely critical, given the abundance of other choices both online and offline. The relationship between schools and the ECB’s national programmes is also key:
“If you can inspire a child aged five to eight to have fun in cricket at school, their next step is going into All Stars or Dynamos. Or they transit into appropriate under nines or under elevens if they want.”
A significant proportion of the YCB’s delivery of cricket is in areas of local authorities where schools are eligible for free school meals.
There is thought given and strategies in place as to the perennial issue of cost around cricket.
Houghton Main, an area of Barnsley classified as deprived, is an example where there are green shoots of success in cricketing terms.
The YCB had a targeted bursary programme for families where the cost of paying for their kids to attend cricket was too much and the YCB funded 23 places at Houghton Main. Many of those kids have stayed on and continued to play at the cricket club.
Whether it’s bursaries for children or paying for those staff who deliver cricket across the region, levels of funding and how that is allocated will always be a hot topic – but important work at grassroots is being done, if you look for it.
Ultimately, governing bodies are judged (and allocated funding) on deliverables which is why you’ll often see a barrage of statistics which can fall on deaf ears. I reckon that’s because we don’t necessarily have the context to marvel at or understand the barriers that have been overcome to achieve them.
I could tell you that the YCB are in 500 of the 1,712 Yorkshire primary schools, mention the 5,500 hours of coaching in schools they do, how many children the coaches see or how many teachers they’re training.
Then there are the 262 clubs and community centres that delivered ECB national programmes across Yorkshire in 2022/23.
In Yorkshire, it is a balancing act of using the funding that is released to the best possible effect, ensuring fairness and supporting deprived communities while maintaining the core offer of trying to get juniors into cricket clubs.
Part of the battleground for the YCB is encouraging eligible schools who are given the pupil premium grant to spend some of that on cricket.
This is funding from the Government to “improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged pupils in state-funded schools in England.”
There is also the PE and sport premium; another pot of central funding that many primary schools receive. Of course, cricket is competing with lots of sports and it’s a tug-of-war for the hearts and minds of insanely busy teachers.
Even if the ECB found £1bn down the back of their sofa just for schools cricket, it wouldn’t be a cast-iron guarantee that every school would magically turn to cricket. There are perceptions of the game to overcome; not least around complexity, cost and ease.
One of Gareth’s ideas is running an All Stars centre at a school rather than a club; there’s room for both of course but sometimes there might not be a cricket club in a specific part of Yorkshire or they don’t have the volunteers to run All Stars.
One of the YCB’s community coaches, Sharon Butcher, who previously worked as a PE teacher in a primary school, is leading a YCB pilot scheme in five schools ranging from affluent to those in deprived wards.
Sharon is running a six-week All Stars session at a Monday after-school club for 23 funded places. She also trains up the teacher who will do the final two of the eight-week block. It works particularly well when it can link in with a cricket club coach who can be involved to promote outdoor All Stars sessions in the summer.
R66t to Hardball
Other fruitful collaborations are happening around the county too like R66t to Hardball; a U12 state school cricket league, funded by The Root Foundation.
This entry-level route into hardball cricket for 20 state schools meant more than 200 children took part in qualifying matches across the summer. The pilot in 2023 offered a pathway into the Yorkshire Cricket Board Chance to Compete U13 and U15 events and saw The Snaith School, Kirk Balk Academy, Roundhay School and Beverley Grammar School reach finals day in September.
The initiative saw 20 state schools receive coaching and some kids were introduced to the game of cricket for the first time, as well as linking them with local clubs.
In 2024, the work done across Yorkshire to inspire as many young people into cricket continues and we’ll be covering stories here on the website across the year.
Yorkshire Cricket Board – Schools Cricket
To find out more about schools cricket in Yorkshire, visit the Yorkshire Cricket Board website for info on Chance to Shine, Primary and Secondary schools.
This is a sponsored article on behalf of Yorkshire Cricket Board – if the mood takes you, click to read Cricket Yorkshire’s policy on sponsored content.
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