Can the nation's newly acquired love affair with rugby raise standards in the classroom? The DfES certainly thinks so and has helped develop a new programme for key stages 2 and 3 called Tackle Learning.
The glossy pack of 40 rugby-themed activities and CD-Rom has been developed through a partnership between the DfES, Zurich (the financial services company which sponsors the Rugby Union Premiership) and the two rugby codes. The programme has a unique feature: it's the first time rugby union and rugby league have collaborated on an educational venture.
Tackle Learning was unveiled with the help of world champion rugby union star Jason Leonard and Great Britain rugby league star Adrian Morley along with England women's rugby union captain Maxine Edwards.
Schools minister Stephen Twigg is keen to link the success of the game with a knock-on effect on pupils. "This uses the nation's love of sport to help bring education alive for pupils. They will learn subjects from maths to safety to motivational skills in an engaging and fun way and meet some heroes of the sport along the way," he said.
The materials are a collection of suggested activities for teachers and clubs to adapt to their own needs. The designers hope that teachers who know little of the game (such as those who had barely heard of Johnny Wilkinson before the England World Cup triumph) will be able to use the packs.
The activities have been written to appeal to all pupils, irrespective of sporting interest or gender. Subjects include drama, citizenship, music, art, history, geography, media, design technology, enterprise and key skills. The pack supports mainstream and out-of-hours learning. Activities involve visits to rugby clubs, as well as players, development officers and rugby club people working in schools. In most cases, activities will be teacher-led, with help from a a player, coach, club physiotherapist or ground-staff, depending on the activity.
Tackle Learning has already been used by Rob Dunn, a former PE and maths teacher who is in charge of the Northampton Saints Rugby Club study centre (one of the Playing for Success centres around the country).
"It's really going well and the children seem to love the pack," he says.
The club and the children who attend learning sessions during or after the school day are riding high after the World Cup: "Rugby fever has caught on in Northampton and the pack is really helping to capture kids'
He credits the work they do at Northampton club with helping young people build confidence and necessary skills, such as ICT, numeracy and literacy.
"We work with around 120 children at KS2 and 3. Some come to the centre during the school day; they are excluded or are on medical outreach programmes. So much of the material is cross-curricular and because we do it here at the club, we can really help to give youngsters a feel for the Saints and how it is part of their community," he says.
The work they do might involve a Saints player talking about health and safety aspects of the game. "The pack helps the children draw parallels between the players' needs for protective clothing such as gum shields, to the children's own safety needs," says Rob Dunn.
They also, he says, begin to realise that subjects such as maths and literacy aren't just for the classroom. One activitiy asks pupils to estimate the costs of kitting out a rugby player and introduces them to VAT, cost and retail price and profit margins.
Plans are also afoot to use the Tackle Learning material to help with a special "Rugby is not for Racists day on March 23.
So far, the pack has been delivered in the Saints centre, but according to Rob Dunn, it will shortly be extended to local schools and a sports college. He says: "We have arranged training sessions for teachers on how to really use this varied material. The DfES are very concerned that it should not sit on a school shelf. We want to make sure it is a resource that will get used regularly not just for wet weather sessions. We also hope that teachers will be encouraged to use their local rugby club as a real resource."
He believes the pack will help encourage wider participation in the game, "Wilkinson has set the world alight for boys' and girls' rugby. Children absolutely love using it and it brings them closer to their local heroes."
But despite all this enthusiasm, Rob Dunn accepts that a big challenge lies ahead. Not just winning the next World Cup, but persuading schools to take Tackle Learning to heart and start running with it.
For more details contact Andrew George at the DfES Tel: 0114 259 4164