It’s been just under eight years since the Chelsea Academy integrated a full-time school programme into day-to-day life at Cobham and here the official Chelsea website brings you the second report on the progress made since its 2012 inception.
We first detailed the workings of our full-time school programme back in November 2013, a year after its official introduction. Gerry Harvey, the Academy’s head of education at the time, played a pivotal role in establishing the school’s presence and detailed the work that had taken place in putting such a significant programme in place.
Harvey has since switched to a new role at the club and his successor Simon Knight has headed our education department at Cobham for the last few years. While acknowledging that the model in place was already strong, Knight knows that constant tweaking and innovation has been key in maintaining the first-class education offering to players.
‘When I first inherited the role, it was really well set up and the model was fantastic,’ he tells the official Chelsea website.
‘After some growth and evaluating the whole programme it became apparent that many of our teachers were still based at Glyn School, which is half an hour away from Cobham, but had a dual role in teaching at our Academy facility and this caused a few issues around timing. There were also a few other little things which needed ironing out, which was understandable.
‘I think we’ve developed massively in the past few years. We now have more flexibility to offer subjects the boys actually want to do. Whereas previously we could only offer generic courses to students, we now we have more breadth, which provides more enjoyment and purpose to our school programme.
'By having carefully selected full-time teachers available at the Academy often means we can create bespoke lessons that captures the attention of the students. By tapping into the the expertise and resources at the Academy, the teachers are able to plan their lessons with more purpose for the student's future. The environment and small numbers allow us to take advantage of this support and maximise learning outside the classroom. It’s refreshing to work alongside the coaching staff to make the education and footballing development both of equal importance.'
Neil Bath, our head of youth development who has worked at the Academy for over 25 years, has been a driving force behind the education programme at Chelsea. However, following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, a knock-on effect on Academy player recruitment from overseas is inevitable.
Brexit will have a significant impact on the way English academies operate, with clubs from next year no longer able to recruit players from EU countries under the age of 18. With the talent pool shrinking and domestic competition intensifying, the importance of our holistic development programme at Cobham in securing the best talent on home soil has just increased significantly.
‘In the modern game, we have to offer a truly holistic programme to players that combines football, academic education and social development because we’re looking to develop good young people as well as talented footballers,’ says Bath.
‘We aim to create a culture in which all players understand that the process of learning is key not just for academic progress but also to football development. The game is increasingly more tactical so players need to be intelligent, they need to take on information quickly in order to execute tactics and be able to make good decisions under pressure.
‘A young player’s education alongside a thirst for learning will be a huge factor in how he progresses in football.’
On the pitch, our Under-16 coaches have also benefited from the introduction of the education programme. When the school first opened, contact hours with the players increased from six to 20 hours a week – even if not all of that time is spent playing football, it does mean that coaches, players and teachers can now operate close to each other.
Coaches Jack Mesure and Andy Ross, the latter being a former Chelsea schoolboy himself, feel the standard of football has improved due to the increased amount of time players spend at Cobham, which gives them greater opportunities to train with older age groups.
‘The fact they are in the building also means they are available for youth team training when needed,’ explains Ross. ‘This has undoubtedly accelerated the boys’ development, which makes our life easier as our job is to prepare them for youth team football.
‘It can’t get any better than the players experiencing the real thing as they get an idea of how the coaches like to work and what demands will be placed on them as youth team players.
‘Ultimately, this makes for a smoother transition to youth team football at the end of the season. There has also been the odd occasion when they’ve been asked to train with the Under-23s, which is incredible, but even more so when there are a couple of first team players in the session. That’s certainly not a typical day for most school children up and down the country!’
Twelve hours a week are dedicated to football training, while the remaining time is spent in classes with our nine teachers from Glyn School based at the training ground on a full-time basis. Mesure details how working hand-in-hand with the teachers has proved beneficial for players and staff alike.
‘We work closely with the teachers every day and are in constant communication with them,’ he says. ‘They update us regularly on how the boys are getting on and we will often go and sit in on classes to see how the boys are doing, which allows us to understand their programme not only from the football side but also the educational side.
‘We will speak to the players regularly about how they are getting on in school, ensuring they are working hard and fully understand the importance of their education. The teachers will also come out to watch training and games so it’s very much an inter-disciplinary approach, which works really well.’
In the summer of 2019, the full-time school reported a best-ever set of GCSE results across the board and Bath hailed the success of our holistic player development as the prosperous year group were also crowned Under-16 Premier League national champions.
That crop are now progressing well as first-year scholars, some combining their increased football responsibilities with post-16 education such as A-Levels. Such is the mantra at the Chelsea Academy, the learning never stops.
- In following UK Government advice during the current coronavirus crisis, the full-time school at our Academy has been closed and we have adopted remote online learning during this period. There will be more on how Academy coaches and support staff are maintaining close contact with our young players throughout the age groups in a feature on this website next week.