Could girls be better footballers than boys? Stephen Manning tells how one school is crossing sport's gender divide.Girls playing football was far from commonplace before 2002 when the movie Bend It Like Beckham raised its profile. But when, 14 years ago, Dom Murphy introduced the idea at Woodford Halse Church of England Primary School in Daventry, Northamptonshire, he faced a striking problem for a football team - they couldn't find anyone to play against.
Things have changed a great deal, and now Dom, the school's acting headteacher, also organises girls' little league tournaments in which many schools participate, including his own. Each year, about 40 girls from the school will be involved in these fixtures.
"I think the teamwork aspect of football particularly appeals to girls," he says. "Boys tend to want to run with the ball on their own, whereas the girls are much more into the sequences of passing. They are also a lot less vocal."
Dom thinks that girls are more interested in the individual skills involved, so he teaches them tricks such as a stepover, or a Zidane 360deg spin (putting one foot on the ball and turning around) as if they were dance moves. In this, girls, especially very young girls, have the advantage over boys. "Most boys are one-footed, whereas it's easier to get girls working with both feet when they are very young."
Crossing sport's gender divides is the norm at the school. Along with the introduction of girls' football, he tried out a boys' netball team. This, though, has not been as enduring. They played adult women's teams until changes to health and safety regulations prevented children from playing adults. However, one of his netball players from years ago is now 24 and plays professional basketball in Chicago. Presently, the netball teams are mixed, as are tag-rugby teams, the latter split fairly evenly between boys and girls.
Does the dominance of the male game annoy them or inspire them? "The girls follow men's football, of course," says Dom. "They also admire players such as Kelly Smith (pictured) and Rachel Yankey, both with Arsenal Ladies FC.
"The women's game should have a higher profile. In Norway, female players are household names. But that's not the case here." Perhaps that's a matter of time
Website: Glasgow's successful bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games includes a series of online activities about sport and society. The activities are useful for cross-curricular projects, particularly at primary level.
Website: Free online and downloadable activities for all of the PE curriculum including gymnastics, athletics and invasion games (football, basketball, etc). www.primaryresources.co.ukpe
Software: Dancing Science is a CD-Rom produced by Hampshire Dance and Creative Partnerships with lesson plans and teachers' notes providing a realistic context for dance - a good way into science for kinaesthetic learners. (pound;40, www.egproducts.co.uk)
DVD: The Dance Network Best Practice Toolkit is a DVD produced by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, helping to bridge the gap between primary and secondary dance, engage boys or recognise gifted and talented pupils (pound;15, pound;12 for affiliated schools).
Book: A Practical Guide to Teaching Gymnastics by Patricia Maude, Barry Benn and Tansin Benn (Coachwise, pound;34.99) is a handbookDVD package providing worksheets, video extracts and advice across key stages 2 and 3.
Website: The Aussie world cup rugby team caught the early plane home from France but the Australian Rugby Union's Ed Rugby resources look more durable. Adaptable to our national curriculum requirements, these downloadable resources for secondary (and primary) PE and other curriculum areas show learning through sport at its best. www.aru.rugby.com.auedrugby
Website: PE Focus. OCR examiner Sarah Van Wely provides a range of training modules and resources to help pupils and teachers with the socio-cultural aspects of their sixth form PE programmes. www.pefocus.com
Website: PE World, a site created by PE teachers containing a range of general information relating to all areas of study, student materials accessible online and resources for teachers to buy. For more information visit www.peworld.org