Teacher Talk

'A lot of the pupils have trouble with authority and routine, and it's good for them to be forced to play the game'
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The Independent Online

Michele Staniland is head of the Complementary Education Centre, in Islington, a referral unit for pupils aged 11 to 14 who are temporarily excluded from school because of emotional, social and behavioural difficulties. Pupils spend an afternoon each week training with coaches from Arsenal Football Club - which, a recent study says, has improved their behaviour.

Michele Staniland is head of the Complementary Education Centre, in Islington, a referral unit for pupils aged 11 to 14 who are temporarily excluded from school because of emotional, social and behavioural difficulties. Pupils spend an afternoon each week training with coaches from Arsenal Football Club - which, a recent study says, has improved their behaviour.

What sort of impact has the Arsenal scheme had on the pupils?

The Centre has negative connotations for our pupils. The football helps them to see it in a positive light. It gives them a sense of kudos because it's Arsenal. The coaches run a reward system, giving match tickets to kids who have made a considerable improvement. It develops team skills and co-operation, which they have great difficulty with. It is also an opportunity to improve pupil-staff relationships, because the staff go down to the AstroTurf to take part, and the pupils interact with us in a new context.

Does it have an effect beyond the sports field?

It's a good way to teach the children the importance of rules and sportsmanship. They have to cope with the yellow card when they break a rule. A lot of them have trouble with authority and routine, and it's good for them to be forced to "play the game". The sessions reinforce their understanding of why rules are needed. Pupils can be kept on task in lessons if they know they're going to be playing football in the afternoon.

Have there been any problems?

Some of the pupils have been unable to cope because they have a huge sense of injustice. So when they're penalised, say, for fouling, they get angry about what is fair and unfair. They have ended up fighting on some occasions. It's a big learning curve for them. The positive definitely outweighs the negative. Even if personal tensions and rivalries cause explosions on the pitch, it's positive to bring these things into the open and resolve them.

Are footballers good role models for children?

A lot of the children are aspiring footballers. They're very aware of footballers' need for commitment and discipline, and those are both things that our pupils find difficult. Somebody such as Thierry Henry, who has that commitment, and whose behaviour is impeccable, is a great role model. It's some players' unpleasant off-pitch behaviour that's more damaging than what happens on the field. And Footballers' Wives has a lot to answer for - all the kids watch it, and it's all about money and materialism, scheming and nastiness.

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