Person first, player second. This is the slogan and mission statement of the School of Football; now in its seventh intake, the project is using football as a tool to help develop social and academic skills in secondary school pupils.

Launched in 2008 through CashBack for Communities – a scheme that sees money seized from criminal activities put to use funding free opportunities across Scotland - School of Football is a joint effort between the Scottish Government’s Community Safety department and the Scottish FA designed to harness a carefully selected number of children’s passion for football and, through this, mould them into the best possible person they can be.

If selected, coaches and school teachers work together to construct an alternative timetable for pupils that allow them to remain on track with their academic work as well as taking part in the School of Football throughout the week. The 2013/14 year was also the first to involve Dynamic Youth Awards; a scheme encouraging 10 to 14 year olds to self-assess and then peer assess each other’s achievements. The awards are now recognised accreditation by the SQA, meaning involvement in the project is beneficial when it comes to applying for further education.

It is not just academically that the School of Football seeks to develop pupils. By shifting the focus away from the footballing ability of those taking part (only 25% are chosen for their talent on the pitch; they act as role models to their peers) the primary goal of the coaching sessions is instead to impart life lessons that will help mature pupils into well rounded and accomplished young adults.  Respect, creativity, communication, discipline and problem solving skills are just a few of the attributes developed through football that can then be transferred to aspects of day to day life.

Retired Scotland International Footballer and Player & Coach Development Officer Jimmy Bone has been a part of the project from the very beginning and is extremely passionate about the work it does, believing that football offers young children an escape from any difficulties they’re facing and allows them to mature in an environment they feel comfortable in. He said: “Having worked first hand with these kids I’ve witnessed the progression they’ve made. It’s great to see them taking an interest and really getting involved.”

But it’s not just those within the School of Football heaping on the praise. A 2013 Stirling University independent review of the project provided overwhelmingly positive feedback of the work being done. The findings reported that, on average, school attendance was 4% higher in School of Football pupils than those uninvolved. Furthermore, 95% of pupils reported an improvement in their confidence levels whilst 79% thought that their friendships had improved. In addition, 83% of Head Teachers felt that the School of Football had a positive impact on the pupil’s social skills.

As the project continues to grow from strength to strength, the future looks bright for the School of Football. The positive reaction from pupils, parents and teachers has seen the programme expand from an initial six schools across Scotland to 25 in total, with future expansion likely. It appears football truly is the way forward.