Gary Hayden visits a school where an unlikely member of staff plays a major role
The English Federation of Disability Sport recently ran a course, "Including Disabled Pupils in PE", at Birchwood High School in Warrington.
Derek Edwards, from Pooltown County Junior School in Ellesmere Port, attended.
Pooltown Juniors will open a speech and language unit in September, and Mr Edwards wanted to ensure that children from the unit will be able to participate in the school's sport programme. On his return, he gave feedback to the headteacher and the PE co-ordinator and offered help to other members of staff.
Mr Edwards is the school caretaker.
There can be few maintenance officers who make such a skilled contribution to the curriculum. He works closely with the PE co-ordinator, Debbie Moffitt, to provide a range of out-of-hours sports activities. He has gained a number of coaching qualifications, he sometimes assists in PE lessons, and he offers coaching advice to teaching staff.
He first became involved in school sport while working at Elton Primary School, also in Ellesmere Port: "Mr Edge, who was the headteacher at the time, asked if I'd be willing to help run a football club. So I decided to give it a go. We went on a few courses together, and it's escalated from there.
"I've also been fortunate enough to work with Debbie Moffitt, who's an inspirational PE co-ordinator."
Now, Mr Edwards's involvement goes way beyond football. He is part of the team that organises cross-country running for Ellesmere Port primary schools, and he helps run Pooltown Junior School's athletics, rugby, football and kwik cricket clubs.
"Mrs Moffitt and I work as a team," he says. "We play to our strengths.
When it comes to rugby, she takes charge because she knows more about it than I do. But in football, she tends to follow my lead.
"Mrs Whitley (Pooltown's headteacher) supports me by sending me on any courses I fancy. I've recently attended courses run by the Amateur Athletics Association, the Cheshire County Cricket Board and TOP Sport.
Soon I'll begin training for a swimming teacher's certificate."
Mr Edwards's contribution is not confined to extra-curricular activities.
Mrs Moffitt says, "When a member of staff is teaching a lesson, he'll come along and say, 'Have you tried this?' or 'I picked this idea up at a course'. Nobody takes offence, because he's part of the team. It's refreshing to have his input. It stops you becoming stale and relying on the same old activities."
Pooltown Junior School recently received Sport England's Activemark award, in recognition of the high standard of its physical activity provision.
Once again, Mr Edwards played a vital role. "He helped me every step of the way," says Mrs Moffitt, "from conducting the initial audit to developing our programme so that we fulfilled the necessary criteria. I don't know what I'd do without him."
Mr Edwards says that his involvement in sport increases his job satisfaction. "I love being the school caretaker, because no two days are ever the same. But working with the kids gives me an extra buzz.
"If you work in a school, whatever job you do, you should get involved.
It's the children that matter at the end of the day. If you put something in, and bring them a bit of enjoyment, then you've done something worthwhile."