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Award winning headteacher to inspire at Active Sussex Conference

Award winning headteacher to inspire at Active Sussex Conference

Categories: Active Sussex Events Active Sussex News Education

Introducing Marie Burgess, the award winning head teacher, who turned round St Leonards C of E Primary Academy, with the help of physical activity and sport. 

When Marie was put in charge of struggling, 410-pupil, St Leonards C of E Primary Academy in 2013, she knew she had her work cut out. 

The primary academy is a two form entry primary based within the Hastings and Rother School Games Partnership (HRSGP) and historically behaviour had been poor, fixed term exclusions high and results lagging behind their peers nationally in certain subjects. 

St Leonards C of E Primary Academy was in special measures. But in less than six years Marie, and her team, has reversed its fortunes with a series of inspiring innovations.

The dedicated headteacher's hard work was also rewarded recently at the East Sussex Women in Business Awards where she took home the top prizes in the Woman in Education and Overall Business categories.

Primary PE and Sport Premium 

In 2013 the academy offered just one extracurricular sports club. The following year the academy utilised some of its Primary PE and Sports Premium (PPSP) to employ a sports coach. Sean Ray was soon employed full time in 2015 and teaches PE, delivers extra curricular sports clubs and is the PE Coordinator. 

"Initially we looked at getting the conditions for learning and wellbeing right because behaviour was appalling and exclusions were high," explained Marie. "When we looked at the wellbeing side we decided to hire in sports provision to get some clubs going so we could get that engagement and interest in school."

"A turning point was when we won a netball match - we celebrated it in our weekly assembly and it was like we had won the Olympics or the World Cup - it was that massive and we thought, hold on, this is something everyone can get behind."

The academy now offers over 20 sports clubs each week delivered by Sean and external agencies including: HKA Kickboxing, SAMA Karate, Pass+Move Football and Sean Creasey Golf (Cooden Beach). 

"And from there its gone from strength to strength - and whether we are successful or not we celebrate the children's achievement and team work," said Marie. 

For those pupils who were still reluctant to join school sports clubs, other clubs in topics of interest such as sewing were established to entice pupils to attend and to demonstrate what enjoyment can be had in extracurricular provision. Many of those pupils have now migrated to extracurricular sports clubs. 

Pupils that fell into the 'persistent absence' category were supported on an individual basis; the sports coach met with both parents and pupils and set bespoke targets that must be met. 

"We have engaged our most challenging pupils in sporting activity and personal challenges," said Marie. "The children know that they have to make positive behaviour choices to be able to represent the school at sporting events. We have had no fixed term exclusions in nearly two years." 


  • Attendance: Pupils with a minor illness who would normally stay at home began to attend school everyday.
  • Results: A correlation has emerged between pupils engaged with sport at the academy and end of key stage results.
  • Behaviour: Very few fixed term exclusions in the past two years.
  • Ofsted: In March 2015, St Leonards CEP Academy moved out of Special Measures.  

"Leaders use the sports funding very well. Pupils benefit from a very wide range of sporting clubs and activities... These activities develop pupils' skills and also contribute significantly to their sense of achievement."  

"Records show that there has been a sustained and notable reduction in incidents of poor behaviour and exclusions"

"Pupils' readiness to learn has increased, as well as their resilience and self confidence." - Ofsted 2017 

Personal Challenge Award 

During the 2018/19 academic year, St Leonards C of E Primary Academy introduced a Personal Challenge Award (PCA) programme. 

The programme was introduced through the Youth Sport Trust's School Games, designed to offer pupils self-led opportunities to attempt to improve physical performances. Challenges are personal to the pupil and are only competitive against yourself - you are trying to become the best you can be.  

After implementing the programme at school to much success, the school decided to implement a version of the programme to encourage activity at home too. 

And fully embracing social media, especially Twitter, coincided with a rapid growth in numbers.

For example, celebration of achievements through the Twittersphere and the creation of the Personal Challenge Award account, twitter handle @PCAStLens, continues to increase numbers.

"We noticed that children were fully engaged in PE and sport at school but there was inactivity at home," explained Marie. "Children came to school sport clubs but only the sportiest children engaged in clubs outside of school."

"We unpicked what the children loved about PE and Sport at school and found that they liked the personal challenge element. They liked that they were competing with themselves and not each other... I went away thinking about how we could incorporate all of these elements and what could be the hook to get them interested - the children at school like rewards, praise and recognition," Marie continued. 

"I also thought about my own journey with running. How I was motivated, what structures I followed and what kept me engaged. All of those things together added up to the Personal Challenge Award."

Award System

  • Bronze Award - certificate and bronze badge

45 minutes a week, spread over at least 3 sessions. That is 3 x 15 minutes. If you already attend a club that is active, you can record it but it doesn't count towards your award. This must be 15 minutes of new activity

  • Silver Award - certificate and silver badge

1 hour 30 minutes per week. This can be broken down however you want but could be 6 x 15 minutes or 3 x 30 minutes. Can you extend some of the activities you have started during the BRONZE Award? This activity must be maintained for 4 weeks. 

  • Gold Award - certificate and gold badge

10 x 15 minutes or 5 x 30 minutes per week. Can you extend some of the activities you have started during the BRONZE and SILVER Award? Could you join a new club? This must be maintained for 8 weeks. 

  • Platinum Award - certificate, badge and t-shirt

Evidence of a further 4 weeks of activity to show when active living is a lifestyle. 20 weeks total activity. 

  • Platinum Plus - Certificate and T-Shirt 

24 weeks of activity showing you have an active lifestyle. During this phase you have to coach/support someone else to take part in the personal challenge award who has to achieve Silver+. 


  • Inactive to active: 80% of children and families that didn't attend sports clubs or represent the school at sport signed up. 
  • Taking part: Currently 150 individuals take part, all at different stages in the programme. 16 have already completed all awards and are now on Platinum Plus. 
  • Health benefits: Children, parents and staff reported feeling healthier and more confident while also feeling more energised, focused and mentally stronger. Several of the families reported weight loss and one parent has been seizure free for over eight months with being active a contributing factor to this success. 

"We've tried a lot of things over the years to get kids active - but it was the personal challenge bit that really worked because it was about keeping the competitive element but taking it away from competing against others," explained Marie. 

"For those children that are really inactive, those that sent in letters to say they couldn't do PE, it was the competitive element they didn't like because they thought they were always being measured. But through the personal challenge they are able to find the hook that gets them into physical activity and they are only competing against themselves."

Marie Burgess is a Keynote Speaker at the Active Sussex Conference 2019. She will deliver the inspiring St Leonards C of E Primary Academy story where she will educate delegates about ideas and innovations that can make an impact. 

Active Sussex Conference Programme 

This year’s conference programme is designed to explore the different approaches and outcomes of engaging inactive audiences, in-line with our Active Sussex Strategy priority groups:

  • Children & young people
  • Older people
  • People with a long-term condition or disability
  • People living in deprived areas with high rates of inactivity

The conference will also feature lead Keynote Speaker Born Barikor, the founder and CEO of Our Parks, the visionary initiative that brings group exercise classes to all ability levels and ages.

For more information about Born Barikor, please click here. 


The conference will be a great opportunity to be inspired and develop new ideas through presentations, best practice, case studies, workshops and networking.

Bookings are open, on a first-come first-served basis, so we recommend booking earlier. Please click here to book.

We hope to see you at the Active Sussex Conference 2019.

More information 

To find out more about the previous Active Sussex networking event: 

  • Watch the Highlights & Delegate videos from the Active Sussex Network 2019 here
  • Read more about the Active Sussex Network 2019 here 
  • Photo gallery from the Active Sussex Network 2019 here