Teacher turned football star

by Dan Westwood, Teaching assistant at St Jude's Primary Academy and Stafford Rangers footballer

Teacher turns football starTeaching Assistant Dan Westwood hit the headlines this year for becoming one of the highest scorers in non-league football, as centre forward for Wolverhampton Sporting CFC. Now playing for Stafford Rangers, he tells us how he balances football with teaching – and what his pupils make of it:

I began working at St Jude's Primary Academy, a Youth Sport Trust Level 2 member school, in September 2015, as an after school play leader, during my final year of university. The following year I graduated from my Physical Education degree and progressed into the role of teaching assistant. This position is predominantly based in PE, where I have delivered and supported lessons ranging from early years to key stage 2. 

Football has always been my passion and main focus from an early age. I started playing competitively for a local junior club aged six and have enjoyed it ever since. My achievements included representing my school, district, and county football teams. This soon resulted in me signing FA player registration forms for Port Vale FC at the age of fourteen. Eighteen months later, I accepted a two-year scholarship at Burton Albion FC which unfortunately didn't result in a professional career. Since then I have played for a number of non-league and semi-professional clubs and continue to enjoy the game. 

People often ask me how I balance football with teaching. Currently, it’s not too bad as we play quite a few local games in our regional league. However, we occasionally get a couple of away fixtures that require an hour and half/two hour travel time, which can be difficult on a Tuesday night. Arriving home around midnight with work early in the next day can be a little tiring but it’s something you just get used to.

The majority of children I teach just can’t understand how I am their teacher, yet also a footballer. A few of them have brought in articles about me, or seen pictures and reports on the internet and don't believe it’s me. They ask me “how can you be a football player and a PE teacher? It’s not possible!”

In today's world more and more children are becoming less active and spending lots of time on games consoles, social media and gaming apps. Particularly at primary age we want to inspire and introduce children to all strands of the curriculum. It’s important for children to play and continue to be active, engage in as many sports and games as possible; not only will this have physical and health benefits but also develop the social and emotional learning domains. 

I would encourage any child interested in football to contact their local clubs and go and enjoy the sport. If children begin to progress and excel as they get older, I would strongly advise them to remain focused on education and their school work. Talking from experience, I know how challenging it can be when you don't work as hard as you should do at school and leave as a teenager with limited qualifications. Consequently, by choosing to focus solely on football during my secondary school years, I have retaken core GCSEs and completed a degree in my mid 20s to help build a new career in teaching.

My next step is to hopefully be accepted onto a Schools Direct course for this September so that I can become a fully qualified teacher. As for football, my aim is to continue enjoying the game I love and play at the highest level possible.”

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