Around sixty of Kirkland High School’s first to fourth year pupils descended on their astro-turf on a Thursday afternoon last month. The goal of the double period of football was to bring all of the participants in the School of Football programme together in a celebratory football festival. The programme, run in partnership with the Scottish FA and funded by Cashback for Communities, aims to work on the player’s social skills and has been running for four years.

Gavin Beith, player and coach development officer for the Scottish FA in the East Region said: “The main aim of the project is simply person first, player second. So we are looking to make the boys and girls better people as opposed to better players. They will improve as players because of the time they are spending on the park but the main aim of the project is to work on their social skills. That means their communication, teamwork, confidence and self-esteem.”

The project also carries accreditation. Gavin said, “All the pupils now across the twenty five schools of football will be working towards gaining their Dynamic Youth award. The Dynamic Youth is very much a peer led award that ranges from five hours to thirty hours in the evening. The pupils will pick a challenge and then they have four steps to try and achieve it.

“An example of that would be I want to improve my fitness while in the School of Football project. Steps would then be: I must take part in School of Football sessions; I must record fitness tests; I must try and eat healthily; I must try to go to the gym once or twice a week.”

It is up to the pupils to try and receive their award but Gavin is confident that the pupils in the school of football programme will receive the award.

Teachers in the school have also noticed changes in the pupils. Nicola Cunningham, principle teacher of Health and Wellbeing said: “It engages young people with football which they love. But it also enhances things like their social skills and their fitness levels. Also, it has an impact on their academic engagement.”

One of the deputes, John Hopkins agreed. He said: “The main positives for these youngsters is just a good work ethic, working as part of a team and understanding the importance of discipline. All these skills they are developing are transferable skills into other subjects so we see an improvement individually across the whole curriculum area and it is really important for us to develop it.

“Some of these youngsters were shy and reluctant to get involved. Now you can see them all active and working together. It’s the leadership, its taking ownership of the opportunity to help other people.”

The changes have also been noticed by parents. Colin Wright’s sons, Luke who is currently involved and Liam who was part of the first batch of pupils, have benefitted. He said “It is good for their football development, confidence and team values.” He went on to say “With the teamwork side of it they actually do a bit more to help us so it has a knock on effect that way and with confidence and social effects it’s a win-win”.

There is also no doubting the pupil’s enthusiasm for the project. Third year pupil MacKenzie Haggart said: “It has helped me in lots of areas especially football but the more I think about it, School of Football has made me a much more rounded individual.”

When asked for specifics, he commented: “We did a bit on nutrition and I gained a lot from that. I would just like to say thanks very much to everyone that has been a part of this course. It has been a great part of my life.”

After the two year School of Football program the pupils move on to Kirkland High School and Community College’s own School of Football program for their third year and it doesn’t stop there. Alan Stevens, PE teacher in the school and the school’s link to the Scottish FA explained: “For National 5, National 4 and Higher courses, 90% of the pupils who have been involved in these courses come back to the department to study Physical Education to a higher level.”

He added: “Some of these pupils also go on to do a sports coaching course at college or university as well.”

All the pupils and staff at Kirkland High School seem to have a very high regard for the School of Football. They seemed keen to expand the program, which is clearly having a positive effect on the pupils and the atmosphere at Kirkland High School.