Strategic Lead Research, Evaluation and Analysis: Sport England
Andrew Spiers studied in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences and graduated in 1997. Here Andrew reflects on his student experience and gives some tips to current students alongside his recent work with students at Loughborough University London.
Why did you choose to study PE, Sports Science and Recreation Management at Loughborough University?
I initially had a false start to my university career. Despite having always loved sport, the year before I began my undergraduate studies at Loughborough I started an ancient history degree. I lasted about two weeks and can still vividly remember sitting in a Roman history class reading the letters of Cicero (in Latin!) thinking "What have I done?!"
After that, Loughborough was the natural choice and not just because of its reputation as the country's leading sports university. The PE, Sports Science and Recreation Management degree offered the widest range of modules and pathways for study of any degree on offer, taught by the leading academics in their fields, on a campus with fantastic facilities.
What impact would you say your First Class Loughborough Sports degree has had on you and your career?
Getting a First was nice and certainly a good thing to have on my CV when I was looking for my first few jobs after graduation. More important though, I now understand how well put together my degree course was. For example, I can still recall lectures explaining the importance of the planning system and National Lottery to community sport (bear in mind the National Lottery didn't start till part way through the first term of my first year at Loughborough).
At the time, I didn't really get it but having spent most of the next 20 years working at Sport England the importance of the planning system in ensuring the right provision of facilities and protecting playing fields is now very clear to me. Furthermore, with almost £6 billion distributed to sports projects in the UK the impact of the National Lottery on community sport in this country has been huge.
Would there be one piece of advice that you would give to current or prospective students looking to study a similar course?
I think being a student now is quite different to my day. Given the cost of completing a degree, I think you probably need a clearer plan than I had! Whatever you do, use your time at university to develop the underpinning skills you'll need to be successful in the workplace (written and verbal communication, analysis and critical thinking, team working, time management). Combine these with specialist technical knowledge in the area you're most passionate about and you'll be successful.
Were you passionate about a particular area of Sport before embarking on your career? If so, would you say that you have taken this on at Sport England?
Aged 19, I was still at the stage where I just loved playing sport. I realised I wasn't going to make a living playing but wanted to continue to train and compete. Beyond that I didn't have a clear plan and chose the combined honours to keep my options open. Over the course of my degree, I naturally gravitated towards the recreation (now sport) management modules which have proven really useful and relevant to my subsequent career at Sport England.
I manage a team of nine insight and data managers and have responsibility for the delivery of a varied programme of research and evaluation, including:
- Design, delivery and development of major population surveys (Active People, Active Lives, HE sport survey)
- Evaluation of the impact of National Lottery and exchequer investment (approx. £200m a year)
- Maintenance and coordination of a research panel
- Other primary and secondary research to support delivery of Sport England's strategy
I think that's hard to quantify. I believe Loughborough gave me a really broad understanding of sport that I now carry into every work situation.
Sport England's vision is that everyone in England, regardless of age, background or ability, feels able to take part in sport or activity. Our 2016-21 strategy includes seven investments:
- Tackling inactivity – encouraging those who do nothing to do something
- Children and young people – working with children from the age of 5 to increase children’s basic competence and enjoyment
- Volunteering – focusing on attracting more people from a wider range of backgrounds to volunteer in sport
- Taking sport and activity into the mass market – focusing on the sports and activities that have mass appeal and can get large numbers of people active
- Supporting sport’s core markets (including talented athletes) – supporting those who already have a strong affinity for sport in a more efficient and sustainable way
- Local delivery – exploring new ways of working locally by investing in up to 10 specific areas to pilot new, more joined up approaches to getting people active
- Creating welcoming sports facilities
Through these investment programmes we will contribute to five important outcomes (physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, individual development, community development, economic development).
What has been your involvement with Loughborough University London’s Collaborative Project and did you enjoy your involvement?
We recently did a co-creation project with our young people panel to understand what they found engaging and exciting (people, causes, experiences, technology). The panel came up with some interesting suggestions and the collaborative project was an opportunity to see if we could develop these further. Given many of the panel's ideas had a significant digital element (as well as sport) the skills and interests of the students at Loughborough University London was particularly relevant.
I'm not looking to move to another role within Sport England because there are still big things to achieve in my current role. The past few years have been dominated by the development and management of surveys and this will remain important but it is only part of what is required. Amongst other things, I'd like to build stronger collaborations with the academic sector to see how we can further develop the evidence base around both the value of sport and what works most effectively to change behaviour.
You used to be able to buy a greasy three quarter pounder burger from the Purple Onion. I was in Elvyn Richards in my first year and as a treat used to enjoy getting one on the walk back from the athletics track to my room.