A unique academy is making great strides in the worlds of both sport and education.
Teenagers are leaving the little-known Huddersfield Education Academy with bright futures ahead of them.
Based at Huddersfield Town’s The Zone on St Andrew’s Road, the Academy was set up just six years ago and combines football with education to give sports-mad youngsters a crack at a professional career.
It also runs the Advanced Apprenticeship in Sports Excellence (AASE) for Huddersfield Giants and a Foundation Degree in Community Football Coaching and Development..
Last year 66% of leavers went on to university. This year promises to be even better - and three teenagers: Kriss Simari, Ash Woods and George Spencer have won scholarships to study and play soccer at American colleges on two- to four-year programmes.
Head coach Mark Tinker, one of the seven-strong staff, is also a scout for the All American Sports Scholarship and he put a number of candidates forward.
Videos are passed on up the scouting ranks in the USA and, once a teenager has been selected, he or she is guaranteed a place at an American College, subject to passing academic exams.
The academy has 53 Futsal programme students who study Level 2 or Level 3 BTECs in Sport; and passing Level 3 opens the door to university.
Futsal, developed in South America, is like five-a-side football, and the students spend their days between the training pitch and the classroom.
The academy teaches 19 specialisations, including sports analysis, psychology, sports science, leadership, technical skills, nutrition, sports injuries, the athlete’s life, organising events, fitness training and coaching.
Anyone who arrives without GCSE maths or English is helped to pass by the end of Level 2.
Curriculum leader James Mahoney, 28, said: “There used to be a coach and a kit man in football clubs, but these days sports can offer so many different careers and with the Huddersfield Town link, there are potential opportunities to get experience within the club.
“Despite a lot of time being spent on the pitches and in the gym, the courses are theoretical and at the end of the day, students still have to write about what they have learned.
“They love it here; the students are highly motivated as they are all passionate about sport. They are all ambitious; they want to go on to university.
“Some have been released from football club academies, but they still want a career in the football system. And those who get scholarships can still play at a decent level while continuing their education.”
The Academy is a registered charity with a board of trustees and is run under the umbrella of Huddersfield Community Trust. Both James and education manager Rachel Lakey, a former FE tutor at Barnsley College, arrived in Huddersfield from Barnsley FC.
Between them they have transformed the courses over the last two years. Rachel said: “James and I had a vision and because we brought in specialised staff, we are moving forward much quicker than anticipated. The change has been unbelievable.
“The calibre of students applying is continually increasing, we have students with A grades as well as footballing ability. Overall, students’ academic ability varies and our aim is to see 100% progress for each one - we are already 85% above target.
“Our reputation is high among students, what we lack is awareness in the local community.”George Spencer, 17, of Birstall, is one of the talented students to win a soccer scholarship to America in September.
He’s not sure where he’s heading yet, but it could be Oklahoma, which has a big sports programme.
He said: “I was buzzing when I heard I’d got the scholarship. It will be a really good experience to play football, which I love, in a country that everybody wants to visit, so it’s a win-win situation for me.
“ Education-wise, it’s fun here. You learn about sport every day and you are doing sport and playing football; I can’t get enough of it.
“My mum and dad think this is a good opportunity for me. I got to realise I wasn’t going to make it as a pro and was going to go down the coaching route, but now my dream of being a professional footballer is possible again.”
The Academy is trying hard to recruit more females, but as yet Dalton’s Faith Forde, 18, is the only girl on the course - something she takes in her stride.
The former Newsome High pupil was in the town centre when she picked up a leaflet about the Education Academy and has never looked back.
She passed her English GCSE at the Academy and is in the final year of her Level 3 BTEC, now on course for a university career. She was Student of the Year 2014/15.
“I don’t mind that I’m the only girl, I just get on with it,” she said. “I love sport, it has always been a very important part of my life.
“I like meeting other people and doing the training, combining a lot of physical activity with studying.”
She is looking forward to a career in sport and hopes to either study physiotherapy at Leeds Beckett University or stay on for the Foundation Degree at the Academy.