Aspiring footballers at Bevois Town Primary School, Southampton, got the chance to tackle Southampton and England striker James Beattie on their home ground at the end of last month. Beattie is the new face of the Schools Football initiative (SFi), which provides teacher training and coaching sessions run by FA qualified coaches.
SFi, which is endorsed by the English and Scottish Schools FAs, worked with more than 1,600 schools last year. With extra funding from sports brand Puma, it aims to reach 2,000 schools this year.
Beattie is a former pupil of St Francis CE Primary in Blackburn, where headteacher, Peter Warburton (a qualified FA coach) "got us to enjoy the game". Now he's happy to encourage the next generation. "If kids enjoy the game, who knows? One day, one of them could play for England," he says.
The SFi offers one-day fundraising events during which every class in a school is given football skills sessions. Harrie Atkinson, headteacher at Bevois, is enthusiastic: "It's a really good opportunity and the organisers bring all the equipment."
For Julie Lewis, national SFi co-ordinator and a Leeds United Ladies player, the day also provides an opportunity to talk about health. "We do lots of fun things with the ball, and we talk about fitness, diet, sleep, and the importance of drinking water." She believes the sessions are also good for teachers. "Teachers can be great sports organisers," she says, "but often feel they don't have enough technical knowledge."
Pupils are sponsored to take part in the event, and schools keep 50 per cent of the money raised (Bevois gave their cut to support their link with Diima Primary School in Uganda through Link Community Development: www.lcd.org.uk) and some goes to the English Schools Football Association and the SFi to cover costs.
The SFi visit was a winner, says Harrie Atkinson. "Our staff have been given lots of ideas and it makes the children feel very special when people come to work with them."
The SFi also offers after-school and girls' clubs, homework-and-sports sessions, and courses designed to help teachers develop and improve their school team's performance.
The Schools Football initiativeTel: 01274 565 870 Email: email@example.com