With its move to co-education and substantial investment in new facilities, St Columba’s College is looking forward to bright sporting times ahead

For every school in the land, there are challenges in getting sports education right. On the one hand, competitiveness and sporting success, and on the other ingraining the habits of healthy activity in all young people by delivering sports they love enough to continue after school. St Columba’s College in St Albans has a third – its transition to full co-education means sport here now encompasses stretch and challenge (and fun) for boys and girls aged  4 to 18.

Every challenge is also an opportunity and, with a substantial investment programme in facilities, there are exciting times ahead. Director of Sport Ed Lowe says: “Our vision here at St Columba’s is to provide a variety of opportunities that engage pupils of all abilities and interests”. The aim is to spread the net wide at first, with a broader range of sports offered for the youngest age groups, before delivering greater choice and specialism as they grow. A love of physical activity is key, as is engagement with competitive sports. “Whilst prioritising the experience rather than solely the outcome, we hope to also develop positive personal characteristics and values that form the basis of a flourishing student,” adds Lowe.

Sporting life at St Columba's College
Girls are a key part of the rich sporting mix, and with diverse sports opportunities and inspirational facilities

The upgraded fitness suite and cardio area works for everyone. Lowe describes the facilities as “inspirational” both for pupils wanting to develop fitness and strength for a sports advantage and those who simply enjoy this as a healthy recreation activity. Even bigger news is the ambitious sports pitch building programme, which is transformational. Currently under construction, the stunning new sports spaces include a 4G artificial grass pitch match facility for year-round rugby, football and other field-based sports. There’s also a sand dressed multi-use games area (MUGA) where students can enjoy everything from netball in the winter to tennis in the summer. “The final piece of the jigsaw is a grass pitch suitable for sports such as football and rugby as well as the summer sports,” adds Lowe.

“There are possibilities for boys and girls to play competitively all the way through St Columba’s College”

While St Columba’s plays all the traditional independent school sports, it is also widely known for basketball – a legacy of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, the US-based religious order that refounded the College in the 1950s. This authentic slice of American sporting tradition thrives here in historic St Albans. “County titles are won with regularity (usually by multiple age groups each year) and previous national titles adorn the trophy cabinet. St Columba’s College can rightly claim to be the most successful independent school in the England Basketball competitions,” says Lowe. Swimming is another strength, with talented individual swimmers over the years and recent success in qualifying for national relay finals, both for girls and boys.

St Columba’s is keen to continue its strengths, but that is underpinned with a strong belief in offering diverse opportunities in team and solo challenges. Fencing, climbing and golf are in the mix – and with notable national-level players. Cross-country is doing very well under the tutelage of sports staff who are ex internationals in athletics. Table tennis is growing in popularity and new sports, including spikeball and touckball, have joined the menu of PE options. Lowe says it’s about inspiring “maximum engagement” among boys and girls.

Sporting life at St Columba's College
Basketball is a College strength – with regular wins in both county and national tournaments

The girls are, of course, key to all of this, and the sports teaching staff have included traditional and non-traditional options here. “Netball will form half of the winter programme alongside football. With football being the fastest growing participation sport in the UK for women, it is the progressive choice that will bring both engagement and, hopefully, competitive success in the future,” says Ed Lowe. “Similarly, the summer sport options of athletics, cricket, and tennis will harness the expertise in the department and allow for a range of experiences.”

The team are proud that the PE programme they are developing shows no gender bias and are keen to develop as many mixed opportunities as possible. This includes co-ed sports, which Lowe sees as adding an extra dimension. “In picking football as a focus winter sport and having cricket as a summer sport there are possibilities for boys and girls to play competitively all the way through the College.”

There are high hopes for co-ed success in athletics – including in some of the combined competitions now available. “This includes the Combined Overall District Athletics trophy,” says Lowe. “It was donated by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in the 1990s with the view that St Columba’s could never win it given that we didn’t have girls at the time!” Now that would be a prize that everyone at St Columba’s wants to see carried home for the trophy cabinet.   

St Columba’s College stcolumbascollege.org

Further reading: Gordon’s School on the ways in which sport develops soft skills