As a scheme which helps youngsters learn through sport faces funding cuts, Channel 4 News looks at how it works and the benefits it has had so far.
The 162 Playing for Success (PfS) centres are based at sporting stadia around the country. They offer a vibrant and unique learning environment for students, using the sporting stars and facilities around them to engage underachieving Key Stage Two and Three children who are struggling at school to attain Government targets on literacy, numeracy and ICT.
PfS has gained recognition for the quality of its practice through Quality in Study Support (QiSS).
The courses run over 10 weeks at a time, with each pupil receiving around 20 hours of extra study support. PfS says its centres help around 50,000 children a year, who sign up voluntarily to the programme, and another 50,000 or so students who come for daytime sessions via their schools.
The innovative methods used by the teachers at the PfS centres also aims to help to build the confidence and self-esteem of children and help them tackle everyday challenges life throws at them in a positive way.
When Channel 4 News visited Batley Bulldogs PfS centre the children took part in a treasure hunt around the stadium, learning numeracy skills without even realising it. They then had a relaxation session in the classroom.
One boy Macauley Brindley, 11, told us he used to have problems controlling his temper, but this has changed since attending PfS: “If someone makes me angry now I have learnt to walk away.”
If someone makes me angry now, I have learnt to walk away. Macauley Brindley, 11, on his experiences at PfS
And 10-year-old Maryam Jabbar said she used to be very shy, but her confidence has grown at PfS: “It’s helped me more to work as a team when in school I always go by myself but here you’re always working in teams and getting on with people.”
Feedback from parents, schools, local and national evaluations have all been positive. And the statistics suggest 80 per cent of pupils who have come through the scheme have improved their grades significantly.
The Kirklees PfS centres manager and teacher Jeanette Palmer told Channel 4 News: “It’s raised literacy levels, numeracy levels but in addition to that, really importantly and crucially it’s raised levels of self-esteem, self-belief, confidence and also aspirations.”
Sports study centre cuts could hit key skills
Funding for Playing for Success, an initiative aimed at improving children's literacy, numeracy and ICT grades through sport, will end this year. Channel 4 News investigates the potential impact.
Read more about Playing for Success cuts
The Barclays Premier League has been a central partner to the PfS scheme, with clubs hosting centres to help their community’s children.
The Government wants the private sector to take the lead on this initiative. The Department for Education told Channel 4 News: “We want the private sector much more engaged with services for young people”, and some sporting clubs may be able to sustain the centres in some form.
However, it is not as straight forward as this. Only the 20 Premier League clubs are wealthy enough to keep the centres running – leaving the future of 142 in more doubt.
Crucially, it’s raised levels of self-esteem, self-belief, confidence and also aspirations. Kirklees PfS centre manager Jeanette Palmer
Furthermore, there are concerns at RHA that if, and it is only an if, the Premier League clubs can keep their PfS centres running in some form, it may not be with the highly qualified teachers who run the centres at present, but by their own staff, who may not be qualified to teach. Whether this would help achieve the same standards of improvement in pupils’ grades remains to be seen.
For other centres, like Batley Bulldogs, the sports clubs simply cannot afford to fund the initiative. For Kirklees Council a decision still has not been made as to whether they will be able to keep funding the centre too.
Conservative Councillor at Kirklees Council Robert Light told Channel 4 News: “We have to change the view in this country where everyone expects the Government to do everything there is not the money to do everything. I think everyone would be very supportive of money going directly to schools. The challenge back to those running our schools is to ensure they invest in the things that make a difference to people’s lives and this is the sort of scheme that does.”
Channel 4 News visited the PfS centre at West Ham United’s stadium Upton Park in East London.
One student who has visited the West Ham Learning Zone for five years is Oswald Addo, a 15-year-old student from Brampton Manor School. A member of the student council, he has returned to the PfS centre to work with younger children who are struggling at school like he did, as a voluntary mentor.
Oswald told Channel 4 News PfS helped him improve his education, but also gave him the confidence and self-esteem to learn and achieve better grades at school.
He said: “The PfS programme has lots of activities involved with it and many of them were based around ICT, maths and English, so throughout the course, it’s helped me get stronger with those parts, especially ICT and English because I was pretty weak at that.
“I think I would really have struggled because most of the programmes that were to do with ICT and to do with English, this place has really helped me start to build up on those lines. So I can just use all the knowledge that I gained from being here at the PfS programme. When I put that into my school work it just helps me out a lot more, so I can just remember what I’ve done in the past and I can use it for all the future work that I plan to do as well as what I’m doing now.”
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He told Channel 4 News that to cut the funding of PfS, it will be the children that lose out: “I really don’t think that’s a good idea because this place works out really well for meeting new people, as well as building up on their education and it also works for giving them something else to do as a hobby or just something to do in their spare time.”
Oswald’s views are shared by one of West Ham’s former players, England International Rio Ferdinand.
RHA told Channel 4 News Rio Ferdinand also used to attend the West Ham PfS centre, helping the kids learn. He recently commented about knife crime in London on his Twitter feed @rioferdy5 calling on the Government to “sort this out please”.
He then tweeted: “It will take a NUMBER of things to change for CHANGE…youth clubs. Real role models, good parenting, respect, drive, a goal in life, opportunities…could go on + on”.
He added: “If the youth clubs etc were there b4 now then maybe some kids would have something to do (activities/sports etc) to keep them occupied.”
Mr Ferdinand raises some important questions here about positive role models, goals in life and keeping children off the streets. The PfS team argues that all these issues are integral to the learning centres.
Oswald was mentoring children from Eastlea Community School when Channel 4 News visited the West Ham Learning Zone and the students there were in no doubt their work is improving as a result of PfS.
Mohammad Kamrul Islam told Channel 4 News: “I think that sometimes if we’re having struggles like maybe on IT, it helps with IT skills so now I’m able to understand what I’m supposed to do on IT, because normally I’m kind of confused. And so now it’s easier for me.”
Asked what he would do if the PfS centre closed, he said: “The truth is I would try to find another study club or something just to help me, but I don’t think it would help me as much as it’s been helping me here.”
If it wasn’t here, I would be really upset, because there would be nothing to do. Erboin Bashota, a child at the PfS centre.
His friend Megan Oscar John told Channel 4 News she likes the one-on-one tuition she received from the PfS teachers.
She said: “In class the teachers have to go around all the other people, but here you can have a teacher that can come to you when you need them and it actually helps you instead of waiting and never getting your work done.
“They actually helped me with my spelling and if I make mistakes they actually help me instead of telling me ‘that’s wrong’ and try to force me to do it by myself. They tell me how to spell it and I actually get it into my head instead of when the teacher shouts at you, telling you to actually spell it properly.”
Erboin Bashota told Channel 4 News he probably would not even be doing school work if he was not a member of the PfS centre.
He said: “I really like coming here because normally at home I’d be watching TV now, but I get to go and make comics and just have fun on the computers and use all the resources on there. And I get to spend some time with other people that I don’t stay with a lot at school.
“If this wasn’t here I would be really upset because there would be nothing to do and some children just don’t get to have the opportunities to do this.”