In the first of our new Interviews with Teachers series, meet the inspiring Catherine Tighe!
Catherine is a Sport and Exercise Science graduate from Loughborough University, where she trained to be a PE Teacher and gained her Masters Degree in Education.
Catherine worked as a secondary PE teacher and Head of Physical Education before joining the Youth Sport Trust: an independent charity devoted to changing young people's lives through PE and Sport.
A former British champion in Sports Acrobatics Gymnastics, Catherine holds five National Championship titles across three different sports, and has competed at International and World Championships level (wow!)
Catherine’s main career focus is how PE and sport can support students to achieve their personal goals, as well as improve physical and mental well being. She wholeheartedly believes that her experience of PE and sport shaped her as a person, and gave her the life skills necessary to be successful.
Hi Catherine! It’s great to speak to you. First of all, tell us a bit more about your current teaching role?
I’m currently in a unique position. I work part time as PE and Dance teacher, and I’m also Development Manager for the Youth Sport Trust (YST) – a national charity working to create a brighter future for young people through the power of PE and sport.
My teaching role involves teaching PE to Years 7-11, Dance to Year 7-8, and GCSE PE and Dance. I also run numerous after-school clubs and fixtures, as our school has a huge extra-curricular programme. Additionally, I’m leading some action research around girls’ engagement in PE and will also now be delivering the Youth Sport Trust Girls Active Programme.
How did you get involved with the Youth Sport Trust, and what is your role there?
I was Head of Physical Education in a Specialist Sports College when I first heard about Youth Sport Trust and the fantastic work that they do. I experienced first hand, through their Living for Sport programme, how targeted work with young people using athletes as mentors can inspire and motivate students, raising their aspirations.
This is now my third year working for YST, supporting both primary and secondary schools to offer high quality PE and sport opportunities to ALL young people. In my role as Development Manager, I support a large network of member schools, and work with our partners and stakeholders to drive the agenda for high quality PE.
Do you think more teachers should be encouraged to engage in opportunities like this outside their teaching role? And are there barriers to this?
Since working for the YST, I’ve certainly had my eyes opened to the bigger picture. Nothing made me realise this more than when I returned to school and came face to face with students again. As refreshing and enjoyable as it is, I’ve been astonished at how much has changed in the two years I’ve been away from the front line. Students really are less active, and their mental well-being really is declining. I knew the evidence said this, I’d delivered so much CPD on it, and I knew we had a national crisis, but when you’re stood there trying to motivate Year 11 girls to be active and engage in the lesson, it really does hit home what barriers some of our young people are facing.
I’ve been very lucky to work closely with the Girls Active Programme at the Youth Sport Trust. It’s a programme that’s grounded in research, and has already had a huge impact on so many young girls. The school I work in are also YST members, and this has enabled us to access further opportunities like the PE Catalyst Network. Through this, we gain invaluable insight and forward-thinking practice from the PE team, as well as benefiting from sharing ideas and networking with over 150 other PE professionals nationally.
What do you feel are the biggest challenges are when it comes to getting more girls into sport?
I used to think it was about choice, as in the curriculum design, and I still think that plays an important role. However, I think one of the biggest challenges is understanding the why and making PE relevant to girls’ lives. This is one of the key principles of the Girls Active Programme, and the only way we'll find out how to make it relevant is through consultation.
Here is the challenge: change takes a lot of time and commitment, and quite honestly a huge amount of patience. It’s so easy to just revert back to giving a student a detention for consistently not bringing their kit, and why wouldn’t we do this? As teachers, we need to enforce the rules. But long term, we need to understand the why and be strategic in our approach to PE and sport so that all girls see it as relevant to their lives.
Why do you think so many girls drop out of doing sport in their teen years?
I’ve actually had this exact conversation with my Year 11 girls. Their responses to the question “What does PE mean to you?” were eye-opening. They described PE as “non-educational” and “judgemental” which honestly broke my heart. I asked them what their top two barriers were to taking part and they said “fear of judgement” and “feeling too sweaty with not enough time to get changed”.
Are you noticing a shift in more girls taking up or sticking with sport, and are there any campaigns that have made a difference?
I think the This Girl Can campaign has been brilliant, and we use this campaign in our school to empower our girls to be more active. I have definitely noticed a difference in more girls taking up an activity, or at least giving it a go, but I worry that I still only see the same girls attending extra-curricular clubs and competing for the school teams.
My worry is that once the novelty of new activities wears off, some girls revert back to being inactive. I think in order for there to be a real shift there needs to be a culture change. PE and sport need to be seen as ‘cool’, relevant, and a vital part of leading a healthy lifestyle.
I also think the inequality in sport still has a huge impact on why girls don’t do as much as boys. The media, although improving, often still has a detrimental effect in my opinion.
What are the main differences when it comes to getting girls interested in sport vs. boys?
I am firm believer in making sure that, although we may target girls because we know that they’re less active than boys, that we should try and ensure that physical activity rates for all students increases. At my school we do this by offering a broad and balanced range of activities. This year we’ve made a conscious effort to ensure that our PE offering is gender neutral. I really dislike the culture that “girls do these activities and boys do those activities” and I think it’s so harmful to the choices that young people make.
What are the biggest benefits you see in young girls that keep fit and exercise regularly?
- Improved well-being (physical AND mentally)
- Increased attainment and academic achievement
- Happier, self-confident girls
- Girls who are more resilient and can cope with failure
- Positive attitude, and the coping mechanisms to deal with issues they face
Did you always want to go into teaching, and why?
Everyone told me all the way through school that I would be a teacher and it was my stubborn nature that made me initially try and avoid it! I didn’t want to do what was expected of me, and I was too focused on trying to be a world class gymnast at the time. Both my parents were amazing teachers and senior leaders and certainly inspired me.
My biggest inspiration, however, was my primary school teacher Mr Snook. He used PE and sport to motivate the entire class and we spent so much of our time in school being active. It was second nature to us. He was an incredible teacher, not just because he allowed us to do so much sport, but because he taught us to be good human beings and he made me love going to school. That’s why deep down I think I became a teacher.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into teaching now?
Be prepared for the emotional rollercoaster! Try and maintain perspective and always surround yourself with those who love being in education: avoid the drainers. Keep reminding yourself that it’s an incredibly unique job, where each lesson, each term, each year you can try again. Embrace the challenge, and don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back every now and then. Be reflective and open-minded, always keep the students at the heart of what you do, and share the workload. Connect with as many colleagues as possible and share resources and planning. It will be a saving grace. You can’t do this job on your own!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Building relationships with the children is amazing, as is working with a brilliant department who have a great sense of humour but who also work incredibly hard. Most of all, I enjoy being part of something that’s really important. To me, education is everything. I’m incredibly passionate about education, what it can do for young people, and how it can change society. To play even a very small part in that is really rewarding.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your job?
TIME, or rather lack of it! I think wanting to do so much and not having the time to do it is the biggest challenge, as well as trying to maintain a good work-life balance. Working in education can be all consuming because you want to do so much good, but the workload and time pressures often don’t allow for it.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
I arrive to school and catch up on emails at around 7:30am (working part time is a killer for this), then make sure I have everything prepared for my lessons during the day, do any printing/photocopying, fill my PE bucket with everything I need: keys, registers, whiteboard pens. You name it, it’s in my bucket, which I carry everywhere as I probably won’t sit down or come back to the office again for the day.
At 8:30am I have a Year 11 tutor group, so I’m with them for 20 minutes doing a variety of activities such as revision techniques, reflections, and debates. After that, it’s Period 1 with Year 8 girls PE, focused on ‘thinking me’, and we’re doing football.
Period 2 is GCSE Dance with Year 11, then at 11am I’m on break time duty – so I head straight to the playground (with my bucket and high vis jacket!) for my 20-minute duty. Period 3 and 4 are then Year 9 girls trampolining, and lunch is at 1pm.
At lunch time, if I’m lucky, I’ll grab something to eat, but this is rare. Something always seems to come up, and 2 out of my 3 days I do a lunchtime club.
After lunch at 2:10pm I have a “free period”, and I do my best to use this time to plan my theory lesson for the following day, and develop the resources I need to support students.
When school finishes, 3:15-5:30pm is usually a basketball tournament, or some other fixture or club, then I drive home to do more planning for my lesson the following day. I eat at around 8pm, and then go to bed at 10pm – if I can stay awake!
If you weren’t a teacher, what do you think you’d be doing?
I would like to think I would be performing on the West End stage or be an athlete, but realistically I would probably have gone down the route of sport psychology as it’s another big passion of mine.
Thank you so much Catherine for taking the time to speak to us!
Follow Catherine on Twitter @CatherineTighe1
Follow Youth Sport Trust @YouthSportTrust