Guest post from Gerald Haigh, Freelance Writer. Gerald writes regularly for the Microsoft Education Blogs.
Towards the end of April, I was invited to the home of Queens Park Rangers Football Club, Loftus Road. The event was the re-launch of the Club’s on-site Community Study Centre which forms part of the wide-ranging work across West London of the ‘QPR in the Community Trust’ . Microsoft, together with other friends of the QPR Trust, including Lenovo UK, now support the Centre with technology, software, expertise and a large amount of goodwill, hence the re-launch.
I didn’t know what to expect in advance, but it was a really excellent event – positive, relaxed, leavened by the presence of schoolchildren and other young people. It was also good to be reminded that Microsoft, a global organisation and very much a premiership player in its own field, can also be a responsive and relatively low-key friend and supporter of an urban community project that makes a real difference to the lives of some good and deserving people.
There was food, and some good speeches, and a video that underlined the sheer extent of the Trust’s work which includes classes and activities for the elderly, and a range of football-related coaching and recreational sessions. There’s a strong emphasis on inclusion, whether defined by age, mobility, ability or gender. Within that broad picture, the Study Centre itself is a compact classroom, under the stands, with space and laptops for about fifteen learners. As well as running catch-up and enrichment sessions for children from local schools, the Centre is home to an over-55 IT Learning Course and an employability course for 18 to 24 year olds that’s having success in getting people into jobs. That’s only part of the story, though, because the the Centre is very much a learning hub and a driver of outreach programmes that extend its reach many times over.
The Centre and its programmes are managed by a teacher, Jesse Foyle, who’s supported by a number of sessional tutors. Jesse points out that the link with football, and with the QPR brand in particular, is a strong motivator for bringing people to the various programmes.
‘It’s a major drawing point for people who might might not be motivated towards other programmes,’ says Jesse Foyle. ‘They’re more comfortable here.’
On the evening of the launch the Learning Centre was being used by children from Greenside Primary in the nearby heart of Shepherd’s Bush, who were exercising their literacy and ICT skills to research the lives and careers of their favourite QPR players. (One girl, looking into the background of Argentinian midfielder Alejandro Faurlin, found herself being prompted from behind by the amiable Alejandro himself – a great first hand lesson in the reliability or otherwise of internet resources.)
Greenside’s head, Julian Morant, was on hand with some of his staff and though he was busy with the children, he was keen to be supportive of the Study Centre’s work, and I talked to him on the phone a day or two later, when he explained that the work at the Centre is part of a general before and after school curriculum enrichment programme.
‘The Centre is one of our key partners. We use it with our Year Six children with the aim of maximizing the impact on their literacy, numeracy and ICT in their final year. It plays a part in our transition programme as we prepare the children for moving on to secondary school.’
All Year Six children, he says, have the opportunity to take part.
‘We’re a very inclusive school, and our work with the Centre is accessible to all children whatever their physical or learning needs.’
Everything the children do at the Centre, he says, is curriculum related.
‘So in terms of maths work it’s an opportunity to use and apply their key number skills – measuring, data handling. And in literacy there’s writing for purpose and writing for an audience, which are very important skills at the upper end of Key Stage 2.’
And always, he emphasises,
‘Underpinning everything is the use of ICT as a tool for extending and applying knowledge and skills.’
The children, he says, enjoy their sessions very much – something that was easy to see on the evening I was there.
‘They’re keen on going, and attend regularly. They respond to the structure and the high expectations and clear learning objectives. They like to engage with each other and other members of the wider community. It’s part of their lifelong learning.’
The impact, he says, is clearly visible in the school.
‘It does make a real difference. The children are more confident, they can see the links between the skills and the application.’
The world of professional football attracts its share of criticism, and there are those who are quick to see the community projects run by the big clubs as little more than window-dressing.
All I can say is I’ve been to a few of these projects in recent years and always been impressed. In every case I’ve admired the serious intentions of the staff and seen how it’s possible to leverage the power of the football brand to the benefit of young people who are not always easily engaged by other programmes and initiatives. All of that is particularly in evidence at QPR, where there’s clear professionalism and genuine commitment. Much of that, undoubtedly, is down to the leadership – from Jesse Foyle at the Learning Centre, and importantly from the Club’s CEO Philip Beard and also from Andy Evans, CEO of the QPR in the Community Trust.
Philip Beard spoke at the launch about the Community Trust’s ‘Vision and mission’ and of his belief in the the importance of football as a motivator for young people. That kind of support from the top of the club is obviously highly significant.
Equally, the enthusiasm and dedication of Andy Evans, CEO of the Community Trust, is transparent. For him, the fact that the Stadium is in a deprived area of West London just adds to his sense of mission and determination to ensure that The Study Centre, and the many other Trust programmes can reach out into the City, taking learning, coaching, recreation and the sheer fun of sport to people who are more than ready to learn and take part.
‘We are willing and passionate,’ says Andy. ‘And we want to make a difference to the quality of life of the people in our immediate community, whether old or young. If we can contribute to their life experience then that’s something we should be doing,’
As I wrote at the start, Microsoft is a global player, involved in some huge and far-reaching endeavours. It would be difficult, though, to find something more worthwhile and rewarding than its participation in this life-enhancing enterprise in West London.