James Riches, FA regional PE and coaching in education coordinator, provides an insight into how The FA are helping football coaches become better prepared to deliver physical education in schools.
Understanding the “school environment” is a key part of improving the delivery of football sessions in schools, explains James Riches, FA regional PE and coaching in education coordinator. Riches, who tutors the Level 3 ‘Supporting the delivery of physical education and schools sport’ (PESS) qualification, explains that large class sizes and mixed interests in football, make school sessions a very different challenge to coaching in a grassroots setting.

“The Level 3 PESS course looks at supporting the delivery of PE, not sport, and what kind of things you should consider,” explains Riches.

“So, you're asking the coaches to go away and consider what the school environment is like. Schools will have an ethos and values; so how does that impact on your ability to deliver?

“In a school session you're going to have 30 children of mixed ability, who may or may not like football or they may not like physical activity. This focuses on how you deal with that situation - in a class of 30 you're going to have a very small space.”

The course aims to provide coaches working in schools with the tools they need for delivering engaging, fun and inclusive school sessions. Riches explains that the variety of issues is wide ranging.

“We run through all the things that you know you might have to deal with, like, how do you differentiate for that group? How do you assess their progress? How do you decide that they need help? What are you going to do to help them?

“It gets them to plan within a school setting. They produce an annual plan, medium-term plan across 12 weeks and then they have the short-term plans there alongside that.”

James Riches and Sean Fearn look out from the stands onto the Keepmoat Stadium pitch.
Riches helps coaches, such as Sean, who work at football clubs and go into local schools to deliver PE sessions.

Having that mindset and level of planning is important when working in a school environment, and it’s something that Sean Fearn, participation coordinator at Club Doncaster Foundation, says he developed because of the PESS course.

“It's something that's adapted my delivery in school massively. Before I went on the Level 3 PESS course, medium-term planning and annual planning - I didn't really have any aspect of it. I had my individual session plans that I used to produce at every session, but I didn't have a medium-term plan or like a twelve-week plan of what I was going to do for that term in school.

“That's made my coaching life a lot easier as well as I know what I'm going to do, I know what I should be planning, I know what I should be aiming towards for that term. And so, if a child is struggling and the strivers are just going way ahead, I can adapt my 12-week plan to what needs to be adapted for them.

“That was a big thing for me on that course because it allowed me to produce good quality sessions in schools where every child is actually learning something. I can differentiate between one child that's really finding it hard to play football or basketball or whatever we're learning in that lesson. Then the ones that do really well, I think how can I challenge them more? How can I make sure that they're actually getting something from this lesson?”

Club Doncaster Foundation's Sean Fearn explains an activity to a group of school children during a PE lesson.
Having a plan in place allows Fearn to tailor his PE lessons for every child.

To fully prepare coaches for delivering in schools, tutors go out to see them in action during in-situ visits providing guidance. The aim is to see them put their coaching skills to the test in a real situation so tutors can guide them further when they’re back on the course.

Riches feels that in-situ visits, which are used across a range of FA courses, help to give a truer reflection of where learners are at and that they’re an important part of their journey.

“In-situ visits put you in the heart of your environment. We go out and see them in the school environment because it's real and they might say, ‘how do you deal with this’ but while you're not expecting something perfect, you are expecting them to say ‘well this is what I'm trying to do and this is what happened; this what I'll change for next time’.

“So, putting them in the heart of that environment can make it realistic. They might say ‘this is what I have to deal with, I have this, and this is what I would do’, and then as a tutor you will look at that and think ‘Ok how are you coping with that?’ So, I think the in-situ visits are massive.

“There's quite a lot going on in a lesson and it's not easy at all, which is why there's plenty of support there for the coach going through the courses.”

It’s needed so that everyone can start to deliver to the highest standard that they want to deliver at 
- Sean Fearn, Club Doncaster Foundation

For the learner, it provides them with a chance to gain some valuable insight from tutors whilst on the job, allowing them to put any advice into practice as soon as possible.

Fearn states that the in-situ visits form an important part of the support network that learners are given, which allows them to improve the quality of their delivery in local schools.

However, learners on the Level 3 PESS course can also receive further help and guidance in between the two in-situ visits that are needed for assessment, as tutors, such as Riches, can go into the clubs to provide them with more support if needed.

“James gives you a lot of advice; on where you need to move towards your second assessment. He provides the ideas of how I can make it better and make it more realistic in the school situation. So, then you go on to your second assessment and you're thinking about putting them in place.

“Learners might not get it right the first time, but they can keep going, keep building all the time. It’s good that they're able to; the support system in that is needed. It’s needed so that everyone can start to deliver to the highest standard that they want to deliver at.”


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