Aberdeen FC Community Trust is marking the return to school with three new signings for its award-winning Partner Schools Initiative.

A total of 23 schools from across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have now signed up for the 2020/2021 season. Each school can choose from a range of programmes, offered through the initiative, which best suits the needs of their pupils.

The overall goal of this partnership, which sees AFCCT coaches work directly with pupils, parents and teachers, is to help close the poverty related attainment gap by drawing on the power of the Dons brand and a passion for football.

In the past two years, the trust has successfully worked with 14,000 children, many of whom require behavioural, emotional, and social support. The projects are run in association with schools, breakfast clubs, after-school and community clubs, and other education projects and have been proven to reduce absenteeism and lateness, raise attainment levels, improve pupil health and well-being and encourage participation in their local communities.

The partnership programme has made such an impact that AFC was named Best Professional Club by UEFA in its 2019 Grassroots Awards.

Schools are allocated Pupil Equity Funding to provide support to their pupils. The decision on how or where to use that funding is up to the discretion of the head teacher. The schools which have opted to be part of the partnership understand the value that it can bring to their pupils, with many already seeing at first hand the positive impact it has had.

Hazlehead School is one of the most recent signings.

“The health and wellbeing of our school pupils is a huge priority for us and so I’m delighted that Hazlehead School is taking part in AFC Community Trust’s partner schools initiative,” said councillor John Wheeler, Aberdeen City Council’s education operational delivery convener.

“Even before the CV-19 pandemic struck, outdoor learning was taking on even greater importance in our approaches to education. I know head teacher Barbara Jones shares the view that sport is a great way to engage with learners and feels that the partnership compliments the school’s values of respect, responsibility, courage, fairness and opportunity.

“By working with AFC Community Trust, we hope that pupils will become even more aware of the positive impact it can have on their mental health and well-being, particularly during these particularly challenging times, and help raise their self-confidence and resilience at the same time.”

Audrey Clark, a Dons fan herself, is head teacher at King Edward School.

“We signed up for the ‘Better Playground Play’ sessions with AFFCT last year to not only help our pupil’s learn new skills in a positive environment and to keep them active during break times but we wanted them to take more responsibility, show respect, build leadership skills and resilience, all very important aspects of our school values.

“These key messages shone through in all the sessions and continued even through lockdown with a package of ‘Donline’ learning that saw the children willingly take on challenges and activities with the support of the AFCCT coaches.

“I had no hesitation in signing King Edward School up to the sessions again as we feel as a school community that the great progress made so far should be built on and it is a perfectly tailored programme to support the children’s health and wellbeing following the school closure.”

The coaches who go into the schools and clubs are positive role models for the pupils and by capturing their attention through football-related activities they can encourage them to come to school on time to attend their classes, help them learn how to cope with any behavioural or emotional issues and teach life skills such as team-work and communication.

Robbie Hedderman, partnership and business development manager at AFCCT, said: “Lockdown has been an incredibly difficult time for schools as they have seen so much change in how education needed to be delivered.

“I have so much admiration for the headteachers and their staff as they have worked so hard to continue to engage with their students online and have been very creative in their approach to do this. We have done our utmost to support this hard work by delivering programmes such as PE at Pittodrie and supported schools online learning with our fun AFCCT @ home workbooks.

“Through discussions with headteachers, the common opinion amongst all is that when schools return after summer there is going to be a greater need for support for the young people of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire. We are delighted to be able to play our part in supporting our partner schools and are looking forward to supporting the young people in these schools over the coming year.”

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