Adam Shaw on an imaginative educational venture by Cardinal Wiseman school and Brentford football club
Given its Irish connections, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the students at Cardinal Wiseman Catholic School were looking to brush up on their cupla focal.
Bearing in mind the close proximity the Greenfordbased school has to Tir Chonaill Gaels training ground, and the significant Irish links the school has, GAA is quite a dominant influence.
Several pupils have played for local teams, while ex-Wiseman students Liam Gavaghan and Philip Butler (pictured bottom right) are regular starters on Ciaran Deely’s inter-county team. But while the sport is hugely popular in the school inevitably there is divided loyalty amongst it and the ‘big two’ sports of rugby and soccer.
So, in helping to drum up some much-needed enthusiasm for language amongst their French GCSE students the school teamed up with their partner club Brentford FC.
Two of the Championship club’s players, Yoann Barbet and Maxime Colin, put 22 GCSE French pupils through their paces to help them prepare for their oral exams in the summer. They took charge of a series of small-sided football matches before heading to the classroom where they attended a mock bi-lingual press conference.
The Bees’ defenders were quizzed in French about their careers, how they are finding life in London and what they hope to achieve in the future. The pupils, acting as journalists, then posed questions in English about the cultural and playing differences on both sides of The Channel.
Barbet and Colin were clearly impressed by what they saw, praising the scheme itself as well as the students’ language skills.
They said: “It was fun to meet the students and listen to them speak in French to us. “We would have loved an opportunity like this when we were at school so we hope they enjoyed it.
“It’s also nice to be able to show that football players can be close to the fans.
“Their French was really good and listening to their English also showed us that we need to keep doing our English classes! “The questions from the pupils were really good; they were things that we never would have thought of at that age.”
The day gave the students the opportunity to mingle with the two pros and, for the Brentford fans among them; there was the chance to grab an all-important autograph or selfie.
“The students got so much, the players were brilliant and relaxed.”
Mr Bird, head of French, said: “The afternoon was absolutely brilliant. The students gained so much from it and the players were outstanding with their brilliant answers and relaxed delivery.”
Through the Brentford FC Community Sports Trust, Cardinal Wiseman now also offers a BTEC Level Three National Extended Diploma in Sport. The two-year programme involves 12 hours a week of teaching at the school as well as two sessions futsal run by the Trust. There will also be a regular match programme as well as the opportunity to take FA Level One and futsal coaching qualifications.
Students enrolled on the scheme will also have the chance to get involved with various work placements and the Trust’s other projects. The school’s head teacher, Michael Kiely, said he was delighted with the partnership and its goals.
He explained: “In recent years, Brentford FC has been at the forefront of London’s football clubs in supporting and providing opportunities within their local communities.
“The new diploma will provide young people in the Ealing area with a clear pathway to university and sports related careers.”
Sporting prowess Cardinal Wiseman has always recognised the importance of sport and has nurtured several notable alumni, including former international striker Jason Roberts and Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus- Cheek. It encourages students to take part in some form of exercise and its ever-growing ties with Brentford highlight the potential of linking sport with education.
But, with Cardinal Wiseman holding a prominent Irish influence, perhaps there will be the chance to host some Gaelic language and sporting events in the future. Jamie Coughlan, head of PE, has already set the wheels in motion with the re-establishment of the school’s Gaelic football club.
“As one of the Irish teachers at the school, I was approached and asked whether I’d look into starting the club back up again,” he said.
“We did it just after Christmas and, even though it started a bit slowly with bad weather and so on, the students have really bought into it.”
Mr Coughlan said the turn-out has increased week on week and is attracting people from all backgrounds as they prepare for the summer’s ABCs (All Britain Championships).
“We host open training for years seven to ten and it’s multi-gender. Of course the majority of the players are from Irish families but we get a lot of non-Irish kids as well. “We’ve got a year seven and eight lads tournament at the end of the season but anyone can come and get involved in playing.”
The hardest challenge, it seems, is finding enough people to devote their time and ensure that the training remains engaging.
“It comes down to commitment and expertise on the staff side – we need them to be willing to find some free time, which given the nature of the job, isn’t easy to do. “The main thing, as with all our sporting clubs, is that the kids are enjoying it and staying healthy,” Mr Coughlan explained.
Whether it’s Gaelic or association football, the school appreciates that sport is about more than just the competition. Its relationship with Brentford has allowed pupils to flourish in all areas of life and Mr Coughlan hopes this can continue.
“We’re always open to all clubs and we really want to formalise links with as many of them as we can,” he said.
“Maybe we’ll set-up a sports’ fair where representatives from clubs, both GAA and others, can come and talk to the kids and encourage them to participate – we’ve seen with Brentford what it can achieve.”
And perhaps the school can even blur the lines between sport, education and Ireland by inviting Brentford FC’s resident Dubliners Alan McCormack and Alan Judge in.