Refs help pupils get ahead of the game on behaviour
"So," the man in black said. "You're playing football in the playground and someone reckons they've scored a goal. Only, the other team disagrees. How do you sort it out?"
Premier League referee Martin Atkinson stood in front of the class, red and yellow cards primed in his pockets, scanning the keen faces of the Year 6 pupils. One boy put his hand up. "We fight," he said, with admirable honesty. Mr Atkinson groaned and buried his head in his hands.
The referee, used to dealing with the tantrums of the country's best known sportspeople, was at Beech Hill Primary School, Halifax, to tell pupils how to avoid fighting and improve their behaviour, social skills and emotional development.
Alongside headteacher Jon Moss - a fellow top-flight referee who combines his two careers thanks to an understanding board of governors - he talked to pupils about how to use body language, how to be authoritative and even how to silence 70,000 rowdy fans with an ear-piercing whistle. (A top tip from Mr Atkinson: always carry two - you look stupid trying to blow a broken whistle.)
The event at Beech Hill was part of a wider programme organised by the Premier League. The initiative, Get on with the Game, developed in conjunction with the Citizenship Foundation, can be used in PSHE to help young people apply lessons from football and learn life skills. The referees can use the combustible situations they regularly find themselves in on a Saturday afternoon to help pupils, the Premier League believes.
At Beech Hill the lesson was also attended by children from two neighbouring primaries, All Saints' and Dean Field. Mr Atkinson covered all the basics of a referee's life. He started by asking the children to boo him so he could "feel at home" and ended pondering a question about the best stadium he had been to: "Well, I've been to Barcelona and Real Madrid - but there's nowhere like Wembley, the home of football."
And amid the double act of Mr Moss and Mr Atkinson discussing how to book Wayne Rooney (politely), showing what a penalty face looks like (authoritative) and demonstrating the buzz box that jolts a referee's arm when a flag is raised, there were lots of tips that are relevant to children.
If you are faced in the playground, or at Old Trafford, with someone who is wound up and angry, the best thing to do is to speak in a calm voice, stay polite and stand sideways on instead of face on, according to the referees.
Atiyah Hamid, 11, appeared convinced. "The referees seem really strict but it isn't about that, it's about being calm."
Even the referee's clothes were tailored to avert conflict, Mr Moss said. When their shirt was redesigned, it was suggested that the red and yellow cards should come from the side of the pocket rather than the top, but it was decided that this would make the hand gesture too aggressive. "Too confrontational," Mr Moss said. "We don't like confrontational."
Beech Hill has been praised by Ofsted for being an "exceptionally welcoming, safe and caring setting" and for its inspirational leadership. The pupils with a referee for a head are also learning that while the multimillionaire footballers get the glory, they would not be able to play without someone to enforce the rules. And those rules apply to everyone.