Only Connect is a new book, written by author Rodney Marshall and available on Amazon.
Here we bring you another passage from the book, with Head of Education Jean Limpitlaw talking about the club's Football & Education programme.
‘It completely changes a child’s experience of learning and education. If you take them out of the classroom and put them in a football club, you can use football to deliver numeracy and literacy. Suddenly a child is interested. You are using sport as a vehicle for learning.
‘It was about making young people realise that not all learning takes place in a traditional school environment. We worked on that angle of being slightly different. For example, the dogs. You don’t have dogs in a school classroom. And not every child who walks through the door will be inspired by football. They have a lot of different inspirational factors in their lives. We started trying to tap into as many of them as possible.’
Limpitlaw’s educational approach is an organic one which starts with the individual child and builds out from there:
‘We always start with a child’s talents and interests, building the opportunities for success. Success builds confidence. A more confident child will take more risks with their learning and then you start to build habits of success and achievement.’
Part of the evolution – the Education Centre becoming part of NTFC in September 2016 – was due to political turmoil and the arrival of a new club owner for whom education was important. You could, I guess, call it a moment of serendipity – the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy, beneficial way:
‘We were still part of the local authority. They were looking to off-load many of their front-line services. At that point, Kelvin Thomas had recently come into the club and had a really strong focus on education. He values it and understands the responsibility you have as a professional football club. We came across to the club as a comprehensive team of educators. We were all teachers first.’
The Education department may now be part of the football club itself, but, talking to Jean, it is clear that it very much has its own identity. Evolution has also been at the heart of the FEP further education programme:
‘The FEP is in its ninth year now. It is full-time education post sixteen. It offers up to three ‘A’ Level equivalents and so the exit pathways include university, in addition to apprenticeships and employment in the sports industry. It began as part of the EFL Trusts’ drive to promote Futsal initially. It has evolved because the exit playing pathways with Futsal are not there yet, so we found that the appeal for Futsal was not as strong as for eleven-a-side football and so that is why and when we transitioned.’
Nor does the Education department solely work at post 16 with the FEP students. It has also taken on the role of educating the Academy scholars. It is at this point in our conversation that Jean makes it clear that the club’s social responsibility and pastoral care are key parts of NTFC’s education process:
‘I, as an educator, realised that some of our scholars on our professional pathway were not getting the pastoral support that our own students were receiving. Over a period of two years, we took over the Academy education from Moulton College and brought it in-house so that we could put our own Pastoral team around our own boys. All of this linked together and connected because the FEP programme came closer and closer to the Academy provision.’
Jean speaks passionately about football’s darker history in terms of young players:
‘Football has a very bad reputation in discarding young people at various points if they are not making the required progress at certain check points.’
She feels that this particularly applies to lower division clubs. After all, while there is a chance that young players rejected by the Premier League ‘football factories’ will find a place in lower-tier clubs, what professional prospects are there for players released by clubs in EFL 2?
‘There is a vital ethical element to the FEP. Every single boy in the Academy is offered a guaranteed place on our programme at sixteen years old, whether you are released at fourteen or sixteen. We also have a post 18 HND programme so we now offer a pathway for every child from nine to twenty-one. It is part of the club’s commitment to them.’
Given the wretched record of professional football clubs in terms of preparing young boys for a life beyond the professional game – which will be the harsh reality for most of them – it is heart-warming to hear about the educational and pastoral work being done by Jean Limpitlaw’s team.