Linking basic skills teaching with a football club has encouraged a whole new kind of student reports Andrew Mourant
"Football clubs are like a church really," says Yeovil Town FC chairman John Fry. On walls along the corridor from his office hang photos of former players - icons from the past - and the trophy collection, sacred cups and shields, is housed in glass cases.
The spiritual pull of a stadium - empty or full - is something Beverley Allen, a project worker with the TUC's learning service in the South-west has come to understand. In a quest to reach adults whose basic skills need improving, anything centred on the club, she reckons, will stand a good chance.
Through the Yeovil supporters' club newsletter Mrs Allen - not herself a football fan - advertised a taster scheme funded by the Learning and Skills Council ostensibly for people wishing to improve IT skills. Those who came were ushered into the vice-presidents' lounge for computer training and for basic skills needs to be assessed by tutors from Yeovil college.
Meanwhile, Mrs Allen feels that mastering elementary maths and English is more palatable if the content is football-related. Along with college tutor Christine Whiting she has devised a 100-page manual of exercises, Score with basic skills. Her next recruits, who will be taught by college staff, will find themselves calculating goal difference and cost of scarves in the club shop; or writing a match report.
If all goes to plan, there will be a proper classroom at Huish Park. This is planned for the summer. John Fry is a longstanding advocate of schemes to instil basic skills in all age groups.
"With our Youth Training Scheme boys in the 1990s, we worked with the college to consolidate their learning, of which they did 21 hours a week," he says. "A lot came into our squad; a lot went into other jobs - sports management or the services. Education plays an important part in developing a person beyond football."
Despite the TUC's role in recruitment, union membership is not a prerequisite. "We want to improve the lot of the working people," says Mrs Allen. "We're willing to run a 10-week course for people as soon as everything is ready."
Score with basic skills is already proving a hit at Yeovil college. "We use it with students who have left school and are doing the football project as an option alongside work experience," says Christine Whiting, who works in the Supported Learning department. "It's good for those who are keen on the game. Some basic skills resources aren't interesting to young lads."
Mrs Allen now wants to get some of Yeovil's star players involved and will sound them out to see if they will join their fans for classes. "Some footballers may worry about a career or managing money when they stop playing," she says.
Fry agrees that's a problem. "A lot of footballers don't pay any attention to what will happen when they finish and this concerns our club," he says.
"They have a lot of time on their hands and need to develop other skills such as in PR or financial management."