Head who made the goalposts move

1st August 1997 at 01:00
Lesley King had her own way of dealing with the theory that primary schools needed a male head to take football.

After being coached by Keith Hodder, the former trainer of her favourite team, Southampton, she gained a Football Association teaching certificate, and smashed through the glass ceiling.

Mrs King is now headteacher of St Joseph's primary, a 480-pupil grant-maintained school in Aldershot, a member of the Funding Agency for Schools -the quango which looks after the funding of opted-out schools -and she also became an MBE in the Queen's Birthday honours list.

Her FA teaching certificate is displayed proudly in her office alongside one from the St John Ambulance Brigade for emergency first aid. "I try to take football as little as possible," said Mrs King. "But when I do the boys quite like it . . . they quite like to think of me as a human being!" She is at the gym every day before school, but says she is no keep-fit fanatic. "I have every sympathy with the child who doesn't want to go out on to the playing fields. "

Mrs King believes the emphasis should be on playing sport for enjoyment and that football has far too high a profile.

"The trouble is with football that you have lots of spectators, you can't all participate. We want children to be fit, to be doing things, to be playing. Football at this age should be about skills and fun, not parents rushing up and down the pitch screaming."

Her philosophy appears to have paid off. This year St Joseph's won the Aldershot schools cricket league and the North-east Hampshire schools football league. And she professes that it is not a "sporty" school.

Mrs King gained her FA teaching certificate in the 1980s, even before she was a deputy head. Then, as now, there was a shortage of male primary teachers but the few there were all became heads.

"The cards were stacked against women in the promotion stakes because governors had this theory that they had to have a man to teach football and a woman for discipline.

"Of course they couldn't say they turned you down for jobs because of the football but the glass ceiling, hidden hurdle, was there. That was why I did the certificate, to make sure I was competing equally."

The qualification is not exclusively for teachers and attracts mainly men. "It was very active, very hands-on. We had to play football and there was a total unawareness of the physical attributes of women."

All children at St Joseph's get one afternoon of games and two PE sessions a week.

"Children nowadays are so unfit," said Mrs King. "They don't walk anywhere - some of mine don't even know where their toes are. Children should have the opportunity to run around for pleasure, not because I tell them to."

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