Foundation heads back to school

This year, more than any other, those words carry far more significance, as schools aim for their very own Project Restart after almost six months where education looked very different due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Schools shut down to all except children of key workers or others who were vulnerable, exams were cancelled, and face-to-face learning was replaced - where possible - by home schooling, online activities and Zoom conversations.

There has, understandably, been a great deal of thought behind how schools have been able to re-open this week, and plenty of logistical challenges for teachers to overcome.

Wolves Foundation have also spent a huge amount of time devising their own return to face-to-face delivery in schools both in the planning of sessions and liaising with schools, many of whom have very different facilities and are taking different approaches to welcoming back an increased number of pupils.

Much of that work has fallen on the shoulders of Foundation senior manager Tom Warren, and schools officer Greg Warren.

For Greg, it is the latest challenge on his Foundation journey which saw him first arrive five years ago as a casual coach, off the back of studying at Halesowen College and also working for another sports company in the Halesowen area.

He soon progressed to a part-time contract as a development coach, then became full-time as a sports coach delivering teacher CPD in schools, before his current role which involves co-ordinating the Premier League’s Primary Stars programme, the Foundation’s core delivery in primary schools.

A keen footballer himself, Greg was actually linked with both Kidderminster Harriers and West Bromwich Albion during his younger years, and was once scouted at a six-a-side tournament by representatives from Tottenham Hotspur!

“I wanted to go down there and see how it went but it was a bit far away so we’d better just leave that one there,” he says with a laugh.

Football’s loss has been the Foundation’s gain, and Greg not only works across the schools programme but also with the women and girls set up at Wolves, including the Advanced Centre.

“For me, like a lot of people growing up, you dream about becoming a professional footballer, but then for most of us that doesn’t happen,” says Greg.

“The next best thing is then to be involved in coaching, especially with a club, and I think I have used my experiences from playing by remembering the things I wish I had been taught when I was developing.

“As soon as I started working in schools, I really got the bug for it, and seeing the children’s faces and how they were improving on a regular basis was really fulfilling.

“From there I have also managed to progress, and to be involved with different parts of the Foundation’s coaching, including the Women and Girls set-up, is really enjoyable.”

Back to this week then, and, while the Premier League Inspires project for secondary school pupils will maintain on online cohort until January, Primary Stars and other key initiatives such as Premier League Kicks, will now benefit from a return to some form of face-to-face contact.

“It has been a challenge for all of us since the pandemic and lockdown arrived but quickly became about looking at what we could do to replace our face-to-face sessions,” Greg explains.

“We liaised with our partner schools to discuss the best protocol, and I did a trial with one school doing an online session, which then developed into a six week programme.

“We also created activity books to distribute to schools and provided other sessions on social media to engage pupils, as well as an Inter Club competition where schools represented ourselves, West Bromwich Albion, Leicester, Burton and Stoke.

“It was all about making sure we were continuing as a Foundation to contribute to the community and the schools which we engaged with, even if the pupils weren’t actually on site.”

Ahead of this week’s return to face-to-face delivery, Foundation staff have been liaising with school staff, checking and devising risk assessments, and taking guidance from organisations such as afPE (Association for Physical Education), the Youth Sport Trust and the FA.

“All the discussions have been really positive, and while we know it is going to be different, we are all really looking forward to getting back involved and supporting the schools with the programmes that best meet their needs,” adds Greg.

“There are various options we will be following depending on the individual schools from splitting classes to having breaks for cleaning equipment but it is all aimed at giving everyone the best possible opportunity to participate while following all the guidelines to stay safe.

“We know the pupils will probably be even more active than usual given they have not been at school for a while and we are focused on making the sessions as fun and engaging as possible.”

Tom says Foundation staff have been preparing to go ‘Back to School’ for a considerable time, and are aware that things could still change quickly over the coming weeks and months.

“We have viewed our programme as almost a continuum, where from the start of lockdown we were unable to do any face-to-face activities, to making progress towards hopefully when we are back to normal in the future,” he explains.

“It is about moving through the stages in between as safely as possible, and we are weighting a lot of our activities towards the second half of the school year when hopefully restrictions may have eased further.

“We have been proactive with our planning, but will also need to be reactive if things change and more schools decide they want us to go in, or others ask us to stop going in, but the Foundation staff are ready to adapt and are all looking forward to it.

“It has been this situation across all of the Foundation’s activities, as we know things are changing all the time.

“And while are still keeping going with our online provision for any schools that still prefer virtual delivery at the moment, It will be great to restart face-to-face provision in a safe and socially distanced environment.”