A concept that has become a reality

The NSS project started back in 2012 with an intake of around 40 first year students in a couple of borrowed classrooms at St Benedict’s College in Kirkop

From its humble roots as an experiment by the previous administration, the National Sports School (NSS) can now look forward to a new €2.8 million home in Pembroke. Last week Prime Minister Joseph Muscat laid the foundation stone of this project. The timeframe for the completion of the new school is ambitious but we are definitely on the right track.

The NSS project started back in 2012 with an intake of around 40 first year students in a couple of borrowed classrooms at St Benedict’s College in Kirkop. Those 40 children were chosen from a modest group of applicants, the majority of whom were footballers. Another 40 children were added in 2013. NSS children were being taught scholastically by teachers shared with St Benedict’s and their sports disciplines taught primarily in facilities operated by the Kunsill Malti Għall-Isport adjoining the school.

But, the NSS craved, and indeed deserved, a home. So, a few short months into the Government’s first term, a project team from the Education Ministry, the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools (FTS) and the NSS’s Scholastic Council began the search for an ideal premises for the school across a good number of schools that were being phased out.

A short list of premises was drawn up and feasibility studies were carried out. Through these studies it became evident that one site, the former St Andrews Primary School, was by far the most appropriate. The site boasted a beautiful (if dilapidated) listed building and the land to build a modern state-of-the-art extension that would deliver a brand new school to accommodate the NSS students throughout their senior school education and, of course, the sporting facilities in order to further their individual talents.

FTS were tasked with drawing up plans to facilitate the refurbishment of the listed building in readiness for the 2014 scholastic intake and designs that were submitted to and approved by MEPA for the construction of the new phases of the building. Refurbishment was completed on time for the new September 2014 intake and the demolition and construction works are well under way.

The result of FTS’s work is a magnificently designed facility for the NSS, that would be the envy of many a country abroad. The new facilities will see the NSS moved from the initial handful of sports offered in 2011 to 20 sporting disciplines in 2015. It will further see a permanent home for up to 250 talented sporting children, where they can develop their talents and individual sporting skills.

Perhaps the most significant design aspect to mention is that FTS have laid out the sports facilities in such a way that they can be easily and readily accessed by other schools in the area and by the general public outside school hours, thereby creating a regional sport centre for the area.

So, what of the school itself? Well, the first thing to make clear is that the NSS is a Government school like any other. Its doors are open to all eligible applicants, but, because the NSS is a dedicated sports school, the applicants undergo a qualification process that judges primarily their sporting abilities. This involves a series of sporting trials, carried out by Malta’s national sporting bodies (associations and federations) on behalf of the NSS. These trials ensure that the NSS has sight of the very best talent of its age.

The assessment, which accounts for a 60% weighting in the qualification process, coupled with the students’ benchmark exam (30%) and an interview (10%) provide the school with an open, transparent and auditable way of selecting its students. There are 40 places offered annually at the school and for the 2015 September intake, the process that has already started. The school is expecting interest from over 300 children.

The school today, in its new home, has its own dedicated teachers. Sports coaching has two paths for the NSS students. Each student participates in the sporting fundamentals – swimming, athletics and gymnastics. Coupled with this, each student has extra sessions on their chosen sport. The individual coaching the children are receiving in the field of excellence is paying off. The school boasts many champions from local competition and 2013 and 2014 have started to yield international success.

Setting sport slightly aside for a moment there is another dynamic that has manifested itself at the NSS. The academic achievements are considerably higher than the vast majority of schools in Malta and Gozo, with the competitive edge that sport brings, naturally driving the individuals to bigger and better things.

Are we resting on our laurels now that the NSS is all set? Of course not. The Government sees the work being carried out at the NSS as a catalyst to getting sport firmly back into mainstream education.

In short, the NSS is still under development. It will reach capacity by September 2016. But, a concept has become a reality, with every child at the school being given a sporting chance to succeed – both educationally and in the field of sport. Every day at the NSS is sports day for the children.

At the time, the Opposition had voiced its disapproval, citing that the relocation was one to a “less equipped school in Pembroke”. But we have a holistic vision and we will ensure that this co-educational school will guide these young students along a dual career path, leading them to a successful career in sports and academic achievement.