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Sports Coach as Transformative Leader: Arresting School Disengagement Through Community Sport-based Initiatives

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This research article by Morgan and Bush in 2016 addresses school disengagement, something that appears to be overlooked by many institutions. Today, most people associate physical education with academic results and developing skills, ignoring key social and educational issues related to disengagement. A number of theorists acknowledge that sport is played for a variety of reasons like enjoyment and socialising, which leads to inclusion and engagement. To think that this is the case for all individuals can be seen as naive, particularly those from disadvantaged areas that do not receive the same opportunities later on in life. Transformative leadership is one way of reducing disengagement whereby teachers assume multiple roles such as a coach, mentor and social worker. In doing so, educators will have a greater appreciation for pupils backgrounds, thus having a positive impact on learning outcomes like attendance and achievement.

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The paper supports the work of Finn (1989) whose participation-identification model was the starting point for disengagement. Representing the school in matches, taking part in extracurricular activities and wearing sports clothing are all examples of identification. Those that do this will most likely perform better academically as well as adopting this culture to future situations. Conversely, learners that are not connected to school sport generally display poor behaviour during lessons, not progressing onto higher education or dropping out altogether. Family influence is very important for re-engaging pupils, especially parents that excelled at school whom recognise the gravity of participating in sport. Forming partnerships will enable schools and families to communicate effectively, which can only have a positive impact on student performance. The role of families within physical education should not be ignored, as fixtures would struggle to happen if it were not for parents officiating games, dropping off/collecting pupils from matches and helping out on trips. Academics investigating this topic believe a social justice education is the most practical solution for stopping disengagement, where learners are provided a curriculum that focuses on life beyond school. This concept involves schools and communities working collaboratively to tackle disaffection, for instance, community coaches play a huge part in changing people’s attitude towards school by creating positive interpersonal relationships and making individuals aware of the numerous opportunities available. Instilling optimism and belief that aspirations can be reached gives pupils direction, leading to greater effort in all lessons. Students from disadvantaged areas find it hard to relate to teachers whose background may be completely different, thus shutting down any possible chance of building a strong rapport.

On the contrary, community coaches that have had a similar upbringing and are experiencing successful lives will inspire others to follow suit. Naturally, learners will be interested to know how these individuals transformed their lives, prompting many to take the same approach. People from affluent families are essentially a step ahead of those less fortunate due to already having a strong network in place, signifying the importance of community programmes, which present opportunities that would not be available otherwise. Young people facing problems at home or school usually feel more comfortable speaking to community leaders who understand and are able to help overcome these challenges. Continuity is a major reasons why local sports coaches find it easier to connect with disaffected pupils, for instance, educators may spend as little as two hours a week teaching these students while coaches are always available for support at sports clubs. Both schools and communities can benefit from one another when it comes to monitoring student behaviour, for example, if an incident was to arise during the school day, then coaches would be notified of this before a training session in order to discuss what happened and resolve it.

The idea of successful partnerships between schools and communities appears straightforward, however there are a number of obstacles stopping this from taking place, including human and financial with continuous policy changes as well as it being time-consuming. Society’s current position means school reputation and achievement takes precedence over social action, making it difficult for strategies like this to materialise. Ideally, teachers and policymakers would work together to stamp out disengagement by firstly looking into the amount of lesson time for physical education. Currently, schools are required to teach at least two hours of this subject every week, which on the surface does not appear enough. If students are to lead healthier lives then more time needs to be allocated to physical activity.

Another concern regarding physical education is the lack of sports provided, for instance, state schools tend to focus on activities that are popular within the local area, preventing learners from playing and developing an interest in different sports. On reflection, replicating independent schools that deliver a variety of sports appears to be the most suitable approach, however due to limited funding, some institutions do not have enough capable and confident teachers for this to take place. One alarming aspect of physical education that is damaging engagement is schools replacing lesson time with extracurricular activities. For a lot of pupils, participating in sport after school is not possible with parents working, several living too far away and others attending clubs that may be running. Within the United Kingdom obesity remains a massive issue, therefore reducing physical activity from the curriculum and making it optional could worsen the situation.

Physical education should be high on every schools agenda with regular exercise contributing to a better quality of life in terms of confidence, stress and well-being. Sport offers a range of benefits, including health, enjoyment and accomplishment, all of which have a major effect on social outcomes. Physical activity links to a person’s economic and social capital, for example, privileged individuals will have no trouble accessing sport due to attending schools with the finest facilities, residing in safe areas and playing for clubs that require membership fees. Furthermore, these families are heavily involved within communities and have large connections, which prove valuable for higher education and future employment. Without government investment, sport programmes will be unable to run successfully, which will have negative consequences for communities such as poorer health and more crime.

Sport acts as a platform to meet new people and have fun, therefore establishing initiatives in deprived areas provides disaffected individuals a safe environment to play. Policymakers and organisations are fully aware that sport cannot prevent crime single-handedly, however community programmes are a great mechanism for keeping individuals at risk off the streets. Having a place where students can use their free time positively will lead to a drop in crime, strengthening the case for more sport related schemes across underprivileged regions. Those with a troubled home life might understandably feel angry or frustrated, so being able to control emotions through sport will result in less criminal behaviour. Taylor et al (1999) notes how local sport projects allow adolescents to work on personal skills like communication, teamwork and decision making, attributes that are vital for progressing at school and in jobs. There is no denying that more needs to be done to encourage young people to participate in sport, and while nobody expects a quick fix, initiating changes will benefit a host of schools, particularly those in rundown locations.

As mentioned earlier, the idea of schools and communities working alongside each other seems the right course of action and one that could be easily achieved. Henderson and Thomas (2013) refer to community consciousness as a reason for sports leaders making better connections with learners, for example, recently qualified teachers might be inexperienced when it comes to working with disaffected students, thus receiving support from community coaches on ways to engage young people will break this barrier. This is relevant to transformative leadership, as educators will be taking on several roles in addition to teaching. Over time, this should create a level of trust and respect with pupils being able to confide in teachers if any problems were to arise.

This paper clearly shows that more needs to be done to eradicate school disengagement, particularly in the state sector where the majority of institutions do not have the resources to compete with the independent sector when it comes to specialist coaches and equipment. While it is evident that government investment has to be made, the attitude of state schools also remains an issue, as physical education must be seen as a priority, not an afterthought. For this to change, sport needs to be considered equally important with subjects like English and maths as well as informing all members of staff and parents of its benefits.

One of the most difficult aspects of physical education is catering for all students, for instance, each year group consists of mixed abilities from those reaching a high standard of sport and others participating to stay active. For this reason, schools have to employ enthusiastic and passionate teachers who will lead inspiring lessons for everyone involved. Emulating independent schools by organising regular fixtures means all pupils get to play, for example, some state schools only enter the county cup and rarely have friendlies, so learners do not reap the benefits of competitive sport such as problem solving and leadership skills. As much as changes to physical education are necessary, many would argue that the current system works well with it producing a number of professional athletes as well as a significant amount of people continuing to play sport after school.Institutions need to be extremely cautious on whether to condense physical education during the school day, for instance, those engaged in extracurricular sport are already interested in the subject whereas pupils who have had a negative experience are unlikely to attend.

Schools need to look at increasing the time spent on physical education in order to captivate all students, which could be attained by offering a greater choice of activities such as individual sports like tennis and golf rather than concentrating entirely on team sports like football and cricket. This is certainly the case for girls with a lot becoming detached throughout secondary school, resulting in some withdrawing completely from sport and others only participating in clubs outside of this setting. Institutions will claim a shortage of facilities as the main cause for delivering a small number of sports, reinforcing the significance of having successful links with communities so learners get the chance to try multiple activities.

Physical education is not a homogenous experience with each individual encountering different challenges such as social class and ethnicity as well as other pressures including exams and playing for the school.

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