Thursday, 11 August 2011

What Happened to School Football?

After announcing to the twitter world I was going to write this blog my immediate thoughts were "what a minefield".  It's sad really that something that I have great memories of (school PE) is something that now needs a blog discussing the ins and outs of something that, in theory, shouldn't be a topic of debate.

I'm sure there must be an element of  looking back on school days through rose-tinted glasses but there are genuine changes that have happened that must have had an effect on the quantity and quality of physical education in schools and this blog is going to look specifically at football provision in schools.  One undoubted fact is that research has already shown that children are becoming more unfit, less active and more sedentary and, in many cases, heavier than before.  This might be due to reduced activity outside of schools but only goes to highlight the need for high quality provision in schools.

My 'rose-tinted' School Days
Boys played football, girls played netball, apart from once a year where we played the girls at netball and football respectively.  We all played rounders, did gymnastics, swimming and athletics together.  School teams existed predominantly for football, netball and rounders.  We played a game on a Saturday morning and sometimes after school in the week.  The teachers supervised the training of the teams and the attendance at matches (yes at weekends!).  
Was it perfect?  Far from it.  Coaching consisted of getting the whole of the year group involved in a couple of games for the teacher to decide who was 'best' and made the school team.  I don't recall ever being encouraged to use my left foot and only by going through my coaching qualifications, playing left midfield and a little homework did I start to use it instead of standing on it.  We played 11v11 on a fairly big pitch with junior goals.  Did I enjoy it? Yes.  Don't get me wrong here, 11v11 is not the way to go for youth football and 4v4, 7v7, 9v9 in the formative years are far more appropriate but this still doesn't happen enough in schools.  I have seen games of more than 11 a side in school PE lessons!

It's the most popular game in the UK
So why does it seem to be treated as some kind of 'unwanted relative' in the primary school PE curriculum.  If you go into any primary school or talk to anybody involved in teaching, the word 'inclusion' will be used as a catch-all when you discuss focussing on a particular subject.  We are more concerned about excluding people than we are of improving them.  "We need to ensure those that don't like football get the opportunity to be included in PE" is the usual response.  Fair enough, but ask most boys and the vast majority will say that football is their preferred sport.  By all means offer after school activities for athletics, martial arts, skateboarding, volleyball etc. but lets be realistic and if boys choose football as a core PE subject (and the same for whatever girls choose as their favourite sport) surely it can only regain some much needed focus.  Why not as part of the PE and School Sport Survey actually ask the children what they want to do?  I am not suggesting that children don't experience other sports, far from it, I am well aware of the potential downside in early specialisation.  I enjoyed multiple sports at school but there was a particular focus on certain sports at certain times that does not seem to happen now as we implement this 'lets keep everybody happy' policy without thinking of the consequences for high quality sports provision.  What does Gordon Ramsay do whenever he finds a 'nightmare' kitchen?  He looks at the menu, invariably says there are too many things on it and advises them to narrow the focus to increase quality over quantity.

Health and Safety
Now this one is the subject of much debate, particularly in the tabloid press who have frequently discussed the whys and wherefores of kids playground activities.  I'm sure we have all been told about the wearing of goggles for conkers (or the complete ban of).  I recently read a quote that said..
"Children's play and education had been damaged, with some playgrounds becoming joyless no-go areas" 
This quote is from the Head of the Health and Safety Executive! who also said:
"Children today are denied - often on spurious health and safety grounds - many of the formative experiences that shaped my generation.  Playgrounds have become joyless, for a fear of a few cuts and bruises" and the people behind the rulings were often "well-meaning but misguided jobsworths".
It's well known that the 'chaos' type football that is often played in school playgrounds gives young people their early experiences of the game.  These games are often 'banned' or there is a 'foam-football' only policy! This chaos style football can get lost in certain 'sterile' coaching sessions.  To take the option away from school children also just means that we will need to re-produce this kind of football in coached situations even more than we need to now.

School Sports Partnerships
This may be controversial, but, in my experience as with many government initiatives they are poorly implemented at the local level.  In theory, the use of Partnership Development Managers, School Sports Co-ordinators, Primary Link Teachers and PE teachers from secondary schools supporting their counterparts in the primary sector is laudable.  However, I believe they have become overly bureaucratic and no way near as effective as they could be.  Too many people planning when the money could quite easily be used for up-skilling or paying for high quality provision that has been authorised by the national governing body.  The current government proposed the abolishment of them on this basis but were forced into a u-turn and came up with a compromise of releasing a PE teacher for 1 day a week to support primary schools, again in my opinion missing the point.  The fact is not enough emphasis is placed on the subject by the government, the majority of head-teachers and teachers themselves. It is particularly worrying that during the teacher training process, my understanding is that they receive 4 hours of training related to PE in their 4 year degree!  

Where are all the Male Teachers?
When I was at Primary School the majority of sports provision during and after school was provided by 2 male teachers (there were 4 male teachers out of roughly 12 in total).  Apparently, one in four primary schools have no male teachers at all.  Now it is a simple fact that it is more likely for a male teacher to be involved with the education of sports such as football and this is evident in all the schools I have worked in.  I have never seen a female teacher that has been involved in the coaching of the school football team (boys or girls) and have worked in many schools. There simply aren't enough female teachers interested in football and some other sports working in primary schools.
Surely it can't be helpful having schools that don't have male teachers (regardless of whether its for PE or not) and recent research suggests that male primary school teachers are vital role models for boys, also indicating that they are more likely to work harder and approach male teachers about difficulties with school or in the home.

So what happens?  The schools turn to the use of external coaches, regardless of quality and some I have seen have been shocking.  Schools themselves don't have a consistent policy for the recruitment, support and deployment of sports coaches and don't seem to recognise that although coaching is a form of teaching, coaches are not school teachers.  Many schools leave the coaches to supervise lessons without any training, any support and clear guidance in managing children or fulfilling the objectives of the national curriculum.  It becomes a 'tick the box' process for many schools who are happy to be able to tell Ofsted that the 3 or 5 hour offer has been satisfied.  
The government should look at specialist PE Teachers in primary schools or continuing professional development for existing teachers/assistants and sports coaches as a minimum mandatory requirement so that all those providing PE provision in schools are appropriately trained in the requirements of the national curriculum for physical education.

The English Schools Football Association (ESFA)
What was the first thing that came into my head when I looked at this website? 
http://www.esfa.co.uk/directory/council.asp

Well I found a pretty good sketch from a Simpsons episode that seemed appropriate:


When reading this website the focus still seems to be all about the ESFA's various competitions.  Regardless of what I have heard about the ESFA's positive response to the FA proposals on the future of the game, I cannot see any real focus on developing talented footballers on the website.  I certainly haven't seen an ESFA Development Programme.  Their AGM refers to Honorary Life Members, Constitution of the Council, Eligibility of Council Members, elections etc.etc. and then goes on to discuss Competition 'Rules'.  Even when the discussion turns to what I would assume is a modern approach to the game - Small Sided Competitions, it only talks about who can or can't enter and whether players are eligible!

There is a document from the FA/ESFA called 'The FA Football National 'Development Programme - School's Competition National Football Framework' which does outline the relevant key stage age groups, number of players (e.g. 4v4 through to 11v11) and types of football festivals and competition that can be arranged.  However, it is referred to as 'Introductory Development Activities to introduce young people to high quality schools' competitions'.  There is no guidance on coaching, who should do it, what type of programme could be used over what period.  In short, the word 'Development' in the title seems somewhat redundant.

Quote 'Football for the Brave' - John Cartwright "From its inception, I believe the ESFA have been a major contributing factor leading towards the present demise of homebred football talent.  Fed by players, self-developed on the streets of the nation, arguably the ESFA were, nonetheless, happy to organise a national structure in which these youngsters played competitive matches.  Little thought was given to player instruction and development."
.."It wasn't until the professional game suddenly realised that the stream of talent was drying up, that provoked them through the FA to demand coaching time with young players.  This request was fiercely objected to by the ESFA and although inadequate compromises were implemented, football development remained firmly in the hands of the Schools' Associations - who had no real development programme!."
After much in-fighting between the FA and ESFA the result was that pro clubs were allowed to create a national coaching school at Lilleshall and Centres of Excellence or Academies for the more talented youngsters, whilst the rest of football's aspiring youngsters were left in the hands of well-intentioned, but in terms of coaching, football ignorant parents.


Conclusions
I will leave this for you to decide for yourselves.  Personally I believe there are many challenges to overcome the issues identified above.  Will the government change the school curriculum significantly enough? This is challenging in itself let alone re-prioritising football within it.  School Partnerships will continue to 'muddle through' with ever diminishing resources and an over-complicated mechanism.  Men will continue to be in the minority of teachers working in primary education for multiple reasons.  The FA must therefore concentrate their efforts on encouraging more female teachers to be involved in football.  The ESFA I look forward to with interest.  I have heard they responded positively to the FA's proposals for the future of the game but I have this feeling that unless the organisation is modernised it will fall seamlessly back into it's comfortable competition framework.

1 comment:

  1. Male primary teachers are desperately needed in primary schools. The job however, can be perceived as one not suitable for men. This perception is outdated and inaccurate and puts a lot of potentially great Male Primary Teachers off from joining the profession.

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