The rules of the game
Cheating professional footballers and abuse of referees could be making children behave badly in the classroom - and a new scheme is using football to provide life lessons.
A pilot project due to begin in Glasgow later this year will see secondary pupils explore the laws of football, as well as other sports and games, and consider how they parallel codes of behaviour in everyday life.
It forms part of Sporting Masters, a scheme devised by independent Scottish sports retailer Bill McQuilter after he witnessed the abuse directed at referees by coaches and parents while coaching a team in a football league for 13-year-olds.
Bannerman High PE teacher Jenny Pearson, whose school is one of those lined up to take part, has devised a personal and social education programme which aims to redress the negative influence often exerted by football.
She sees a clear link between the bad behaviour of professional footballers, such as their challenges to referees' authority, and similar incidents involving children - on and off the football pitch.
"I've seen it starting to creep its way into the classroom, where pupils start to question directions," she said.
Alan Harwood, a senior sports and fitness lecturer at Glasgow's Anniesland College and adviser to Sporting Masters, said some of the behaviour in boys' football matches was "appalling".
But he believes football can be turned into a positive by focusing on the "philosophy of sport and fair play" and learning about the laws of football.
S1 and 2 pupils in the pilot will consider fair play on the football pitch and how a lack of fairness can impinge on everyday life. They will also look at what makes a role model in football.
S3 and 4 pupils will examine more complex ethical issues that extend beyond football into life, such as why it is important to value relationships, and the importance of having integrity and commitment.
Mr McQuilter said pupils might play football without a referee, instead making decisions themselves, or see how a board game such as "Snakes and Ladders" or "Scrabble" panned out if rules were not adhered to.
But he stressed that Sporting Masters projects were directed by pupils, with the emphasis on enterprise as much as sport.
The programme was first put into practice in West Dunbartonshire, where education director Terry Lanagan and quality improvement officers Angela Simms and Denise McKinnon have been enthusiastic backers.
St Kessog's Primary, in Balloch, took part in the first pilot, while Dumbarton's Braehead Primary and Kilpatrick School have also been involved from an early stage.
Pupils set up their own companies after selection by interview, with the focus at primary level more on fitness than fair play.
"The children run their own sports fitness clubs for the benefit of their peers," said Mr McQuilter during a break from a Sporting Masters conference hosted by West Dunbartonshire council last week. "They take ownership of the health plan for their school."
One of the most successful initiatives was a "dance off" at Braehead Primary.
"Five young girls did it themselves in front of 200 kids at an assembly, then every kid wanted to take part in lunchtime sessions," Mr McQuilter said.
"Teachers were so overwhelmed - these girls decided to give up their lunchtimes for two weeks, and they organised everything themselves with no input from any staff member whatsoever."
Mr McQuilter and fellow project director Michael Cannon hope to expand Sporting Masters across Scotland, and may look to recruit teachers into new jobs.
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