Only one day, only one parade

12th December 2003 at 00:00
Chariot rider backs pupils who skipped school. Stephen Lucas reports

A rugby-mad primary school head who joined England's World Cup winning team in their victory parade along the streets of London believes the experience was a valuable one for the children in the 750,000-strong crowd.

John Drew, head of Homers-wood primary, in Welwyn Garden City, was chosen to ride in the Sweet Chariot victory parade after the Rugby Football Union pulled his name out of a hat containing the names of every volunteer in the UK who had helped promote the sport in the past two years.

As he was on a course when the RFU's call came, his school accepted on his behalf. Mr Drew, who is the chair of Hitchin Rugby Club and the Executive County Rugby Union, said: "There were children at the parade, but most of the parents I spoke to said they had asked schools for permission to bring them. It was a difficult call.

"Schools have to decide whether a sporting event is a bona fide reason to let children out of school. With hindsight, having experienced it yesterday and seen the joy on people's faces, I think the children got something out of it."

He found himself on the bus with Clive Woodward, the England coach. "It was an amazing, fantastic atmosphere," he said.

Last week, the Government urged headteachers to tell students not to attend the parade. The TES spoke to some of the pupils who braved the Trafalgar Square crush.

Divesh Patel, 17, from Harrow Weald sixth-form college, who had taken advantage of a double free period to go with fellow pupils to the parade, said: "We've come to see Jonny Wilkinson and the boys. We've got two free periods before lunch. We might take the rest of the day off. It's only one day, and there's only one lesson after lunch."

A man, who did not wish to be named, had taken his 11-year-old son Charlie out of his south London school to see the parade. He said: "Basically I think this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime occasions. It's unfortunate that it wasn't at the weekend, but one day out of school in a lifetime seems a sacrifice worth making."

Tom Eisenhuth, an Australian PE teacher from the Nautical school, in Blackfriars, who accompanied students to Downing Street, said: "This was a wonderful opportunity for our rugby-mad boys who experienced a unique atmosphere as Downing Street celebrated England's World Cup victory."

London's specialist sports colleges were each invited to send 10 students and two staff members to Downing Street to watch the team arrive for the reception at Number 10 with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Joan Barnes, the head at Hackney Free and Parochial Church of England school, said: "We have seen a renewed interest in rugby since the World Cup win, but as one of our female PE teachers plays for the England squad, the profile of the sport is high already."

Matt Buck 47

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