There is currently a tension for boys at Key Stage 2 development age (8-11) where underachievement in reading coincides with a huge engagement in football. According to the National Literacy Trust’s Boys’ Reading Commission, funded by the All-Party Parliamentary Literacy Group, 75 per cent of schools are concerned about boys’ reading and only 25 per cent of boys read outside class every day. At the same time, 83 per cent of boys watch football regularly.
I have joined forces with best-selling author Alex Bellos to write a book, Football School: Where Football Explain the World, that we hope will improve this pressing issue in education.
The book explains the world through the prism of football. It is set in a fictional school, a familiar environment for children, and each of the 18 lessons uses football as a learning tool. For example, in Physics, we ask if you can play football on Mars and discuss how gravity and air resistance would affect game conditions. In Politics, we look at the player who stopped a civil war in his own country.
The book has a clear social purpose to engage reluctant readers, increase confidence in reading and with that, improve engagement across all school studies. It will also encourage curiosity and learning about the world around us.
The Premier League has introduced a Reading Stars programme in which footballers help readers and parents increase confidence and take more interest in their children’s reading habits. The campaign has achieved impressive results: a 74 per cent increase in numbers of boys who enjoy reading, and a 63 per cent increase in the confidence of their own reading abilities .
By using the social power of football, we believe Football School can help turn around the significant concern surrounding boys and literacy, which the National Literacy Trust has called “deep-seated… a long-term and international trend”.
Football School is not only for boys. We mention women’s football throughout the book and feedback from our readers has shown us that girls are enjoying the book as much as boys are. While the book is aimed at 8-year-olds and older, good younger readers will be able to read it on their own, and even younger ones will enjoy the cartoons, jokes and subject matter.
Educationalists who participated in Reading Stars appreciated that the football theme was a positive motivation for reluctant readers. “Using football in a reading intervention, that’s not common, not common at all. It’s unusual,” said one Head Teacher at a secondary school. An English teacher at a different secondary school added: “A lot of reluctant readers, in my experience, are boys. And a lot of boys also like football. So to merge the two together, it just makes sense. But we had never used that before.”
Football School takes this one step further. The book is about football, but also about life. It will teach children about probability, nutrition, birth order, national anthems, market forces and how to look after an eagle. More importantly, it will teach children how to enjoy reading again. And that benefit will stay with them for the rest of their lives.