John Mitchell reports on an extra-curricular scheme which has boosted pupils' enthusiasm for school studies
For a librarian, Barbara McGranaghan makes a wonderful football coach. And she'd be the first to admit it.
She still seems a little bewildered to find herself in charge of the St Stephen's Study Scheme Football Team, but she's been chief trainer and match secretary for about 18 months now.
"How it really happened, I don't know," concedes the Port Glasgow comprehensive school librarian, whose interest in the welfare of her pupils clearly extends a considerable distance beyond reminders on overdue titles.
"We had a visit from the Prince's Trust in 1996, and the pupils became highly motivated at the idea of doing things for themselves rather than waiting for things to be organised for them, and - well, next thing I knew, Gerry Thomson was saying 'Miss, can you help with a football team?' I looked around, and no one else was there."
Gerry Thomson is in fifth year now, and he's been a stalwart of the Study Scheme Football Team ever since (usually as striker or midfield supremo). He's taking five modules this year and, in common with other members of the scheme, acknowledges that the weekly football training (3.45pm each Tuesday) is a carrot which makes their Wednesday and Thursday study sessions in the library a palatable experience.
"You have to attend the study scheme to be part of the football team, and if you don't, you're out."
The attendant educational values of the scheme are expounded by Elaine Moore, network learning support teacher and assistant trainer of the team:
"The attitude of the boys is terrific," she explains. "They're more interested, they're more socially interactive - they just approach you more than they used to."
It's a comment which has been made by many staff in the school, and it's a point echoed by Craig Tannahill (a fourth year boy taking eight Standard grades, currently injured): "The study scheme helps with my exams. There are teachers helping with homework, we can use the library computers. Football's the icing on the cake."
In more pedagogical terms, that view is confirmed by Tom Callan, principal teacher of learning support at St Stephen's and co-ordinator of the study scheme. "The chance to let pupils be aware of their own potential - and the potential of others - has been a tremendous outcome of the visit by the Prince's Trust, and the work done by Barbara and Elaine has brought it to reality.
"The pupils involved have been able to network in educational and social terms, and they make much more use of the library technology and facilities than those who aren't involved. It gives their studies a real context, and it's given them a sense of confidence, of fair play, of teamwork, and of being part of an active community."
Barbara McGranaghan, also, confesses to a still, small voice of pride in overheard conversations: "We had a game last term, and on the way home in the minibus some of the boys were discussing the contents of their discursive essays for Higher English; and I got to wondering whether that kind of interchange would have happened without the kind of atmosphere brought about by the study scheme."
Probably not. Yet St Stephen's Study Scheme Football Team has its problems. Chief among these is the difficulty of arranging matches when you're not the official school team. So far, they haven't played many competitive games; but that's not for want of trying. An enquiry concerning their record of fixtures is met with some embarrassment: a five-a-side tournament last year, friendlies against neighbouring schools and - the highlight so far - an involvement with the Scotland Against Drugs tournament last summer.
"The boys were terrific that day," enthuses Elaine, "and the organisers commented on their attitude, humour and warmth. Especially when Paul Gault (tall striker) offered to change shirts with one of the opposing team half way through their final game instead of waiting until the end. He wanted to be wearing the shirt of a winning team for a change."
And if arranging matches can be a problem, securing funds for equipment is proving an even bigger trial. Concern about losing the ball was expressed during my visit ("it's the only one"), and - Mrs McGranaghan's whistle having been misplaced - Michael McCairn (goalkeeper) was occasionally called upon to provide a fearsomely realistic impression of a referee in full blow.
And then there are the strips. Applications for grants are being made, for this is a team which is, quite literally, playing for the jerseys. "It would be nice to have them," sighs Mrs McGranaghan wistfully, "because it would give them a real and visible sense of being part of a proper team."
For the moment, however, that team spirit has to be displayed in a more indefinable manner, through friendship, and through shared endeavour in both sporting and academic fields. And that's why Tom Callan isn't too concerned about the team's won, drawn and lost record.
"For the school, and for the boys, the result of this scheme, and the result of all of Barbara and Elaine's hard work, has been 100 per cent win - no matter the results on the field."
And where else would a training session end with a final instruction to the full-back to extend his essay plan for tomorrow's English lesson? Perhaps he didn't look too enthusiastic about it. But he was going home to do it.
To play the St Stephen's Study Scheme Football Team, contact Barbara McGranaghan at St Stephen's High School, Southfield Avenue, Port Glasgow, PA14 6PR. Tel: 01475 705111