AN international rugby referee has been helping young athletes at his old school stay at the top of their game during lockdown.

Former Harlequins scrum half turned referee Karl Dickson has been coaching over the internet students at Barnard Castle School, where he first learnt his rugby craft and where his brother, ex-England, Falcons and Northampton Saint, Lee is director of rugby.

Karl was invited to coach students by the school’s director of sport Rachael Masterman as part of a programme of virtual speakers designed to engage students in their remote learning.

He spent 70 minutes talking about his schooldays, his professional career as a player and referee and answering questions from students ranging from Year 10 to sixth form, including 12 who completed a refereeing qualification this year. A second session is planned for students hoping to take a refereeing qualification next year.

Other guest speakers have included physiotherapist Rhiannon Sears from Salford Hospital and Emma Rogers, stroke specialist from QE Hospital in Birmingham, discussing their experiences with students interested in physiotherapy in the future and how best to tackle the lockdown.

Rachael said: “The lockdown has proved to be the perfect opportunity to secure a host of speakers because they have more time on their hands. They are enabling us to access coaching of the very highest standards which is certainly inspiring everyone at school.”

Lee, Karl and Harlequins full back/winger Ross Chisholm also run an online rugby drills and coaching business, ‘Out of the Scrum’ which students are making the most of.

Karl said: “My passion for rugby led me into this venture with Out of the Scrum to show players and coaches the drills we used in our professional training to help us develop and improve our skills. I’m delighted to be able to share our knowledge with Barney.”

Rachael said: “We have been using video conferencing a lot during lockdown and it has proved to be really effective in engaging students and helping them keep their fitness.

“We were studying nutrition this week and I had the students running from their computers to the fridge and back to bring me various foods, which was entertaining. We constantly strive to find different ways to engage them in their studies and this is something they have really bought into. They have enjoyed having a sense of ownership of their own learning as well.

“Staff have been fantastic too in their use of technology and it has allowed us to keep track of students’ work, progress and engagement very quickly. We also record lessons in case they miss them.”

Through Teams students are also able to access interactive training programmes, tackling their mobility, strength and conditioning, athleticism and sports skills, including rugby, cricket and athletics.

“It is so important to get the students outside as well,” said Rachael. “We are working on training programmes which are personalised for their age group using live and video exercise sessions and we will continue to develop these even after lockdown is over.”