Classroom practice - Let's put the boot on the other foot

Dismayed by England's World Cup performance? Better support for teachers means the power to change our fortunes is in your hands

Simon Creasey

On Sunday, the final whistle will blow on yet another major football tournament in which the England national team have failed to reach the final. Criticisms and suggestions have duly flooded in: sack the manager; introduce quotas for domestic players in the Premier League. Yet on perhaps the most important issue for securing future footballing success there is near silence: why is there not more support for teachers in training future stars?

For many children, their first experience of organised football coaching takes place in schools. And it's a little-known fact, particularly outside the teaching profession, that PE teachers have played a key role in the development of top footballers at the academies of Premier League clubs such as Everton, Liverpool and Manchester City.

They also have a strong track record of success at pitch-side level, with World Cup managers Roy Hodgson and Louis van Gaal working as PE teachers in the past, and former PE teacher Paul Clement ably acting as right-hand man to Carlo Ancelotti as Real Madrid clinched the 2014 Champions League title.

However, the ability of teachers to positively affect the future of the beautiful game has vastly reduced over the years, according to Neil Dewsnip, a former PE teacher in Liverpool who trained a school-aged Steven Gerrard, and is now head coach of the England under-18 national side and technical lead for the 17-21 age group.

"The pressures that have come in over the past 20-25 years in the teaching profession haven't helped the provision of extra-curricular sport generally and football in particular," Dewsnip says.

The Football Association (FA) is already trying to rectify the situation by providing more assistance to primary-level PE teachers, in the form of its Tesco Skills scheme. Under the programme, specially trained coaches work in more than 1,000 primary schools each year, providing specialist football-skills coaching for children and their teachers.

In addition to helping to develop the technique, ball skills and confidence of children in primary schools, the programme's coaches aim to pass on "invaluable lesson ideas and guidance" on football coaching to their teachers, with an extensive package of supporting information available online. This should enable teachers to do more with the reduced time they now have available.

"The coaches are there not only to inspire children but to work with primary school teachers to develop their knowledge and understanding, leaving a legacy and resources so that teachers can continue the work started by the skills programme," says Mark Swales, the FA's regional PE and Coaching in Education coordinator (South EastEast of England).

The Coaching in Education Unit is another string to the FA's teacher-helping bow. Funded to the tune of pound;1.2 million, it is tasked with developing resources and courses for teachers across all key stages, plus trainee teachers, coaches who teach within curriculum time and coaches who teach in extracurricular clubs.

"Our role is to support and up-skill teachers," says Swales, one of six regional PE and Coaching in Education coordinators who have been appointed nationally. "This has been achieved by offering localised CPD sessions for current schoolteachers, working with Premiership and Football League clubs that work in schools to up-skill and align knowledge and understanding around the future game."

Alistair Smith, an educational consultant working with the FA, adds: "We've got great technical talent; what we want to add to the mix are creative problem-solvers. This is where schools and PE staff can help."

Invaluable skills for life

It sounds great in theory, but there is a caveat to all this. "The quality of coaching by PE teachers will depend enormously on the circumstances of the school, the value placed on PE and school sport by the headteacher, and the willingness of the PE teachers to engage in the learning opportunities available to them," according to Spencer Leach, regional PE and Coaching in Education coordinator (LondonSouth Central), who previously worked at Fulham FC as head of education and assistant youth team manager, and before that taught PE in schools.

But Swales believes that the FA's approach should overcome these issues, feeding as it does into wider curriculum objectives. "It is about creating an environment where children want to learn, and we believe that our modules sit nicely alongside the national curriculum 2014," he says.

"We want teachers to be creative and challenge children to take chances, be confident and compete against themselves and others, while developing physical literacy and social skills that will be invaluable for football and life."

What could also influence the status of PE is the FA's soonto-be-released DNA initiative for English football. Scheduled for release around the start of the new Premier League season, the scheme will set out the style in which football should be played and will provide resources and support for that style to be taught. It will, in short, provide a framework by which PE teachers can prove they are part of a wider programme that schools should be signing up to and can't afford to ignore. Critical mass should prevail.

So, CPD for PE teaching when it comes to football is improving and should develop further in the next football season - but access to this training has to be increased.

Teachers need to lobby their headteachers for permission to get involved in the FA projects and others. They need to ensure that they get the support they need to train the next generation of outstanding footballers - footballers who might, as a result, actually go all the way and win something.

Read about the FA's partnership with a further education college

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Simon Creasey

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