Books and Boots: The football captain encouraging pupils to read

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

Media caption,
The Books and Boots scheme is making a big difference at Millisle Primary School

The captain of Linfield is helping pupils at a County Down school in the classroom as well as on the football pitch.

Coaching from Jamie Mulgrew is giving pupils at Millisle Primary School the motivation to read more books.

He has been helping the school with their Books and Boots scheme.

Pupils who meet reading targets every week get a session working on their football skills with the former Northern Ireland international.

But encouraging some children to read more can be a challenge.

According to the principal of Millisle Primary, Ian McManus, giving reluctant readers an incentive has made a real difference.

Image caption,
Linfield captain Jamie Mulgrew is helping young people on and off the pitch

"The children if they read a certain amount of words get to have a weekly coaching session with Jamie Mulgrew," he said.

"That first step might be a little bit of coercion to get them to read.

"But once they get into reading they very quickly develop a love of books and favoured authors and then there's a culture of reading across the school."

The Linfield captain comes to Millisle every week to coach pupils who have been top of turning the pages.

'Important for mental health'

He admitted to BBC News NI that he was a reluctant reader at school, but said that had changed.

"I wasn't overly interested in reading and I didn't read often which I would regret," he said.

Image caption,
Pupils who meet reading targets every week get a session working on their football skills

"Now I've an opportunity to change that with my children.

"I've three kids - two that are in school - and my wife and I faithfully read books every night to my kids because I feel that it's very, very important."

He also said the combination of exercise and fresh air was vital for the children.

"They're all at different levels within their football," he said.

"But I think it's very important for their mental health, for their self-esteem and enjoyment as well that they get out into the fresh air and get running about and get doing something that they enjoy."

The Books and Boots scheme has been running at Millisle for five years and has been praised by Education Minister Michelle McIlveen.

'Loads of words I never knew about'

The pupils are developing their football ability but the reading message is certainly getting through too, if P7 pupils Finlay, Ethan and Jacob are anything to go by.

"It's encouraged me to read more because it's very intense and it's fun to read," Finlay said.

Image caption,
Jacob is enjoying the combination of reading and football

Ethan, meanwhile, has been reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Horrid Henry books and Jacob has become a fan of David Walliams.

"They're really funny and they have loads of words I never knew about which now I know," he said.

So when it comes to both books and football, the pupils at Millisle are winners.

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