I remember as a trainee teacher one of my lecturers, Jon Binney, telling me something that, at the time, I found highly controversial:
“If I would get rid of any activity from the PE curriculum, it would be football.”
Now, as a spritely 19 year old I thought this was a ludicrous claim to make. “Get rid of football – but it’s our national game!”. Fast forward 6 years and I now see exactly where Jon was coming from, because I myself am beginning to think the same thing. I would like to remove football from the KS3 curriculum for boys. Let me be clear at this point that I consider football to be my favourite sport as I have both watched and played it my entire life, so on a personal level I have a deep love for the sport.
Here are the three reasons why I would get rid:
Those that enjoy it consume a significant amount of it elsewhere in their lives
Football is the most played sport in the country for boys, with the most widespread grassroots club network of any sport. If a young boy wants to play football, he can be fairly sure there is a club team in his local village or town. Furthermore, football is the most watched sport in this country. All those hours of watching Match of the Day and listening to pundits spout their analytical wisdom over the games draws many people, and I include students in this, to a false conclusion – “I already know a lot about football”.
Those that don’t enjoy it already know this by the time they are 11
In 5 years of teaching, I have yet to come across a student that, as a result of doing football in PE at secondary school, has discovered a new found love for the game. Why? Because in our society it is everywhere, allowing boys to make their mind up long before they graduate to secondary school. Opinions are formulated already, meaning a significant number (yet still a minority) of students view football very negatively.
Attitudes of students change
Only at the start of football lessons do I find myself faced with multiple students asking me the most irritating question known to PE teachers – “are we doing a match today sir?“. This tells me one thing; students that ask that question do not associate the activity of football with learning, but merely playing. You may say this is a good thing because implicit learning is often the best kind, but in my experience it often leads students to resent any aspect of the lesson which requires them to do all of the things they are used to doing in other PE lessons – reflecting, peer discussion, answering questions etc. Here, I am talking about the students who play outside of school and at lunchtime and struggle to differentiate between the football they are experiencing with their clubs and the nature of a PE lesson.
Furthermore, football in the media very often fails to reflect many of the qualities of sportsmanship and fair play that we try to promote in our students. All too often professionals are seen arguing with officials, time-wasting, simulating dives, using inappropriate language. It is in football lessons that I see these qualities surface the most in students.
What might be the challenges of taking it off the curriculum?
A banishment of football from the curriculum will lead to disharmony from a large majority of boys in the school, and possibly even parents too. However, I believe there is a simple and elegant solution to combat this.
Ensure there are ample opportunities for boys to get involved in football extra-curricularly. Doing this will appease those that enjoy the sport and provide them an opportunity to enjoy it in a setting with other, like-minded students that also are choosing to be there. Similarly, it takes away the necessity for those that do not enjoy it to put themselves through the humiliation of having to demonstrate their insufficient skills in front of others.
Currently in my district we have a seasonal fixture calendar of various sports, meaning football fixtures only take place in the spring term. My recommendations to be department are that we create a recreational lunchtime 5-a-side tournament for KS3 to give students the impression that football is still a large part of sport at our school. This would also reduce the amount of medieval mob football being played on the playground at lunchtimes, instead providing students with a structured environment where they can play football properly.
What are the alternatives?
If you feel a full scale removal is too strong a step to take for our national game, here is my alternative proposal. All Ks3 football lessons become futsal lessons. This will be a positive change for various reasons:
- Futsal is relatively unknown to students, meaning they will have no preconceptions of what the game really is. It will remove that black/white situation of students saying they love/hate football.
- Because students do not play it outside of school, they will not participate in the lessons believing they already know it all.
- If done in a sports hall or on an astro, and using proper futsal balls, it will promote better ball control and actually accelerate the technical development of the students.
You will notice that nowhere in this blog have I mentioned football provision for girls. I am not proposing these measures for girls, because I feel there is still significant scope for them to access football in PE lessons in the appropriate learning environment. They are less consumed by the sport in their personal lives and therefore tend not to exhibit many of the negative aspects that I have already mentioned above.
In conclusion, this is a move that I feel will benefit the majority of my students in the long term. It may not prove popular in the short term, but I think a more varied lesson curriculum and a greater provision of football extra-curricularly will be viewed positively by most students. In the very least, I don’t think it will hurt our chances at any major international tournaments, which, let’s be honest, is all the nation really seems to care about when it comes to football success!
Afterword: Since posting this, I realise I forgot to mention that I do teach football to many KS4 boys groups through a sport ed module, and intend to continue doing so. In this format, I value the educational focus of the lessons and believe it correctly harnesses the enthusiasm for the game in the right way.