The FA

Educating England

England's player education manager reflects on culture change towards learning

Wednesday 22 Nov 2017
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As the player education manager for England’s technical division, Caitlin Hawkins helps all of our Young Lions and Lionesses when they’re on the road and away from school.

After joining The FA two years ago from Liverpool FC, where she was lead link tutor with Rainhill High School and spending ten years as a PE teacher before that, Hawkins has a strong background in elite level player education.

And with a growing team of staff, she explains how there has been an important shift in attitudes towards studies and qualifications within the England development set-up…

“People have a preconceived stereotype of young elite footballers.

Since starting with The FA, I have found that our young players demonstrate determination, focus and a great level of organisation to complete their educational commitments.

Due to their training and football commitments in a normal week we find that our players mainly exceed the school expectations, outstripping their peers who are at school full time.

Long gone are the days when you would get away with doing the bare minimum and maintaining that attitude. It’s about finding that balance between their football and education and that’s where my role and the team of education officers who are attached to the squads comes in.

The FA ;

We cover the men’s teams from U15s through to U18s and the women’s teams through to U19s and I supported all events on the men’s and the women’s teams last season along with nine consultant staff to help facilitate formal education sessions when the players are on the road.

The environment and expectation is changing and a level of formal education when on trips with England men’s and women’s development teams is becoming accepted and the culture of learning within the teams is changing.

This year has been a busy and successful one for our squads and with UEFA and FIFA tournaments in May and June there is often a clash with GCSE and A Level examinations and these need to be facilitated in whichever country a tournament is hosted in.

The exams obviously create a different focus, but they enjoy it because they’re on the road for so long and it’s a break away from the intense focus of football and a place where they can come, learn, speak and do something different.

The education sessions now are within the team’s schedule so they go alongside the training and the games, whereas it used to be done in the players’ downtime.

Sessions consist of whatever homework, revision or academic tests which have been set by their schools, colleges or universities before the event and they send us the work which they would expect to be completed when the players are away.

Long gone are the days when you would get away with doing the bare minimum and maintaining that attitude.
- Caitlin Hawkins
We make sure there’s an education room and all the resources needed, so when we are away, it doesn’t matter where we are, it can still be done.

It’s now embedded into what an England development trip looks like, so the players who have been doing it on an U15s trip will expect to do it until the U18s or U19s.

The players have reacted positively too, because the last thing that they want is to return back to their education provider being behind, so they enjoy the fact that this won’t happen and they can just transition back into education as quickly and smoothly as possible when they’re home.

We’ve had good feedback to say that when they’re away with us, they’re actually doing more and returning to school in a better place because we’re giving them the opportunity.

I have a phrase of ‘better learner, better player’ and we’re finding that all players, parents, clubs and education providers are all now working together to enable the young player to achieve in both education and football.

The expectation from the coaches is to completely embrace education and they are investing time, energy and awareness in the fact that they need to see the true player and the true player is not just on the pitch.”

By Nicholas Veevers