What does football have that school doesn't?

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
Should we cram pupils into freezing classrooms with hard seats?

I have finally capitulated and gone to a football match. It's not just that my boyfriend is a football fanatic. As with education, everyone seems to have an opinion on football - however uninformed - and I was beginning to be frightened I was missing out.

Sometimes it seems that football is one big secret I'm not in on. It's a sport that gets our most reluctant boys out of bed on a Saturday morning and down to our school playing fields. it gets some of our most reluctant teachers out too.

I did a range of football texts with my Year 11s last term, and I noticed a vague glimmer of enthusiasm. Could football be the hidden key to educational success?

"Great result," said one of my friends when she phoned a few weeks ago. I thought perhaps my kids had entered an exam without telling me. It turned out she was talking about the Liverpool- Manchester United match. I wanted to tell her that my boyfriend was so high on exhilaration, jubilation and alcohol when he finally rolled in that night, that it most certainly was not a result - if you get my meaning.

In school on a Monday morning, my colleagues usually greet me with "Bet he's happy this morning," if a match has gone well, and if it hasn't, they sympathise while I'm trying to plan lessons. But as the newest member of the football fraternity (and I use that word advisedly) I keep my mouth shut.

My football initiation was on Boxing Day, Middlesbrough v Liverpool in Middlesbrough, the furthest I have ever driven, not 10 hours after the day on which I ate the most I have ever eaten. It was like trying to roll a beach ball behind the steering wheel. At least I could listen to Harry Potter during the drive, punctuated by stops at service stations where you pay pound;1.50 for a packet of Wotsits. By the time we got to Middlesbrough, I was on a sugar high the like of which only Year 7s experience on their first day of school, when they realise they can choose whatever they want for lunch.

During the match, I became the coldest I've ever been - despite my thermals. The seats were hard and seemed very small fo my post-Christmas pudding bum. The best thing was not having to queue for the loos, due to the distinct absence of females. The other plus point was that Liverpool lost, so my boyfriend now thinks I bring bad karma and won't take me to any more matches. What a relief.

But something struck me about the event. I was surrounded by people, including a good number of school-boys, who were clearly having the time of their lives. They were yelling and screaming and analysing and commenting - they were totally absorbed. They were acting exactly the way I would want them to act in my lessons.

I'd always taken concentration to mean a kind of morose silence, but looking at the cheering fans, I realised that I'd mistaken concentration for compliance, and grudging compliance at that. (These really were my thoughts, by the way. I was so bored, if I hadn't been a teacher I would have been counting the hairs on the bloke's head in front. School always occupies you when you need it.) In short, what does football have that school doesn't? Should we cram kids into freezing classrooms with uncomfortable seats with only a wrinkled hamburger at lunch time? I try to make my classroom look as inviting as possible. Should we introduce fervent competition and encourage inter-class hatred? Most schools have policies preventing that kind of thing. Should we lecture non-stop for 45 minutes, encouraging pupils to watch but not participate? I was taught to do the opposite on teaching practice.

It seems that football gives children the antithesis of what they get in school and they love it. Perhaps that's the key: it's not school. They choose to go to football and they don't choose to enter your classroom. So whatever you do, you're always threatened with relegation. I may not have enjoyed my footballing encounter, but I'm convinced that, as every good manager says, there are lessons to be learned.

Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer School, Edmonton, north London. Email: gemmaw@callnetuk.com She has written a guide for new teachers, published by The TES, pound;2.99. Order from The TES bookshop at www.tes.co.uk or call the shop on 01454 617370

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