Jim Sells from the Literacy Trust is manager of the Reading the Game project that aims to get young people into books through their love of football. Further details of that initiative can be found here.
The National Literacy Trust has always understood the enormous motivational power of football and early on its history decided to encourage a new audience to develop a passion for reading through their passion for the beautiful game. The popularity of two series’ of posters featuring players reading and the ‘signing’ of several high-profile players as Reading Champions (male role-models who are genuine readers) led to the creation of a programme Reading The Game (RTG) devoted to working with football to promote literacy. With funding from the Football Foundation (www.footballfoundation.org.uk) and with the support and the encouragement of the Professional Footballers’ Association and Football in the Community, the programme was launched in September 2002.
Our audience may regard reading as an activity that is not for them and therefore avoid venues traditionally connected with education, but football is something they are comfortable with. So using football as the hook, we show reluctant readers that they can become much more knowledgeable about their favourite pastime through reading, and that they can have more than just a love of the game in common with their heroes, by emulating them as readers and reading the same titles (from Shoot! to Fever Pitch). Put simply, RTG brings football and reading together.
Reading the Game is possible due to key relationships with all of the major football bodies. Football has a real ability to unite and thanks to significant contributions from the Football Foundation, the Professional Footballers’ Association, the FA Premier League, the Football League, Playing for Success (see other clubs for more info) and the Football Association, RTG has been able to access some of the biggest names in football.
Like every good club the success of RTG is not only down to its work on the pitch but the work that goes on behind the scenes as well. 50% of RTG work is project based and 50% is about supporting, facilitating and creating new opportunities. The larger parts of the project work comes under four categories: Reading Is Fundamental UK (RIF), Premier League Reading Stars (PLRS), Kick into Reading (KiR) and Reading Champions.
Reading Is Fundamental UK
Provides free books for children to choose and keep at no cost to them or their families. To date RTG has provided nearly 20,000 books to nearly 7,000 children through football clubs. RIF, like RTG, is an initiative of the National Literacy Trust in its own right.
Premier League Reading Stars
A programme run in partnership with the Premier League and the Football Foundation, PLRS sees libraries teaming up with their local Premiership side to run family reading groups. PLRS has received an amazing amount of positive media coverage and by August 2006 will have reached over 1,600 families.
Kick into Reading
Football in the Community coaches the next generation of Beckhams and academy students are trained as storytellers and put on loan to their local library where they meet with schoolchildren and talk with them about their reading habits. Nearly 5,000 children have taken part to date and thanks to funding from Arts Council England, 12 clubs will run this programme over the next year.
Reading Champions (another initiative of the National Literacy Trust, run by the National Reading Campaign) are positive male role-models who talk about their genuine love of reading. They are from all walks of life but there are several within football and we are looking for a Champion at every club. So far we have 90 at over 40 clubs.
There is also a lot of work that RTG does ‘off the pitch’. This includes the creation of resources such as the new series of posters that features England stars Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, David James and Alan Smith reading; workshops, seminars and keynote speeches; an RTG website; the creation of new projects that will tackle new areas such as adult learning and bring in new partners. Reading The Game the movie is also in production and we hope this will be available free or charge to schools in October.
Look out for penalty shoot-outs in libraries, book giveaways on match-days, classrooms under stands, players nominating their favourite reads. These are just some of the ways in which football and footballers are making a contribution to raising the profile of reading.
It must be stressed that while the National Literacy Trust is responsible for a lot of pioneering work in the league of literacy and football, there is lots of great work going on that may be in partnership with us, or with no connection to us (although some of these may have been inspired by RTG activity). Here are a few details of some of the major players:
Playing for Success
Playing for Success (PfS) is a Department for Education & Skills initiative that establishes study support centres in sporting locations. The centres identify local schoolchildren on a needs basis and work on their literacy, numeracy and ICT skills. PfS takes place at all Premier League and Championship football clubs; a selection of League One and Two Clubs; Rugby League, Rugby Union, cricket and gymnastics clubs.
The FA’s ‘Up for the Cup’
‘Up For The Cup’ is a comprehensive cross-curricular teaching resource aimed at pupils aged between 7 and 11. The pack contains a variety of materials such as FA Cup wall-charts, maps and match reports and is designed to raise standards and interest across a broad range of skills including literacy, numeracy, art and geography.
Now the final word from the gaffer. I’d like to kick off (what do you expect from a manager?) by explaining why we are working with football. Cynics claim that footballers aren’t the sharpest shooters when it comes to education and although it would be untrue to claim that every player is a big reader, most people would be delighted to realise how many players are.
I am often asked to help to arrange player visits; my enquirers quite rightly realising that an excellent way to influence their young people is to place a big name in front of them who can, in an eloquent and inspirational manner, explain the relevance of reading to their lives. Unfortunately this is not a service RTG can offer but I have written some notes as to the best way to approach your local club and this can be accessed from the RTG site (www.literacytrust.org.uk/football/RTGResources/goodpracticesch.html#playervisit). The great names aren’t always available but clubs can offer a variety of alternative role-models, so there is likely to be something that they can do to inspire your students, whilst raising the profile of their local club. They do after all need to recruit the next generation of fans.
I often hear the words 'Football is loaded, can’t they do more?'. As with most things there are two sides to the argument or if you will continue to bear with my footy-based puns, it’s a game of two halves.
They say that football has a responsibility to its community and with all the money sloshing around (£24 million for a recent West London signing), it’s right that there should be more for community-based programmes.
They say that football already does a lot, that their community-based programmes are at full-stretch and that the money is all tied into the game rather than being available for local activity.
Both comments are correct. There is a vast amount of financial difference between clubs in the Premiership and those in any other league. There are very few clubs that are not running regularly at a loss. The bottom line is that you need to be realistic in your expectations of your club, no matter what status they have. Don’t forget to find ways in which you will be meeting their needs too – if you form a good relationship with them, you could become the local organisation that the club comes to should it wish to pilot any educational initiatives in its area.
You may also like to use some of the ideas on the RTG site, which you would be most welcome to do, but please do let us know what you are up to. Your ideas should be shared so that other organisations can benefit from your experience; it’s a free-transfer market.
Finally, many people can take some convincing as to the value that football can bring to the world of learning and although it cannot be said to be a 'cure-all', there is enormous value to be gained from this, sometimes unlikely, partnership. Whilst we know that football is not in itself the answer to literacy problems, we are confident that by promoting reading and literacy through the medium of football, skills can be improved amongst those who might be reluctant to learn through conventional channels. Children will start to associate reading with football, which they relate to and enjoy, rather than something that they just think of as schoolwork. Importantly, they will know that their heroes on the pitch are readers and if they want to emulate their heroes it is more than just kicking a ball. Working with football, Reading The Game hopes to have a significant impact on literacy levels, particularly for boys and young men who are traditionally seen as low achievers.
Some other useful links:
Best to go the RTG site (www.readingthegame.org.uk) but here are a few starters.
www.footballpoets.org - A site for all football poets and lovers of football.
www.play-footee.co.uk - Education orientated football games.
www.footballculture.net - Includes a great football phrases game.
http://schools.fantasyleague.com - Educational tool for schools.
www.gradedreading.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk - ESOL football resources.
www.football-basics.co.uk - Assess adult learners in both numeracy and literacy.
Now get out there and score your reading goals!
For more information please sign up to the RTG email newsletter (www.readingthegame.org.uk).