Charles Jardine shines a light on the work of Fishing for Schools, which has been helping youngsters improve their education and lives through angling for more than a decade.
Some 12 years ago, a collective of teachers – all anglers – and I sat around my dining room table and plotted.
We plotted and codified the initial framework that would become Fishing for Schools, creating a standard that has endured, melded and developed over the years to become a beacon for others to follow, and in its own way, has taken angling to places that no-one ever imagined or thought possible. It has worked.
Today, we reach schools across the length and breadth of England and Wales; we work with all ages; we work with all races and ethnic minorities; we work with academically minded students and those who are not. We love it all, and we make a difference, both socially and educationally.
How can you ever gauge success with something so intangible as fishing, education and the young mind? When all is said and done, the student will tell you all. A smile where there was none; a word when nothing is usually said. A gesture when the normal is indifference. We draw on the minutiae, not the grandiose.
The area of education is the one element that is often overlooked when Fishing for Schools is discussed. All too often the initiative is seen as a purely recreational diversion and a jolly for children. This is nonsense. The programme is and always has been, dedicated in assisting with a young person’s education through angling. How? Well take a cast - how far did that cast go - you have to understand length. If you catch a large you weigh it, so need to understand weights. Maths, geology, aquaculture, biology – all these come into play when doing natural science-based activities. And, perhaps one of the most important aspects, which is often overlooking within school life: working as a harmonious team.
There are so many life skills that one can learn, absorb and adopt from fishing, and the students, for the greater part, do. Therein lies the strength of the initiative: a measurable, education-based, fun course, with a predetermined outcome. Another misconception that permeates the initiative are the schools in which we undertake Fishing for Schools. Let me be clear: fishing is a sport for all. To be successful we must approach all ages and all sectors of society.
We settled on students between 10 and 14 years old. This cluster of young minds is a very rich seam. The vitality, hunger for knowledge and infectious enthusiasm of the age band is a joy, exciting and enervating. We are blessed with extraordinary young people; bright students whose thirst for knowledge is a joy to work with.
Today, the concept behind Fishing for Schools is to meet the needs and requirements of schools and educational establishments throughout England and Wales. Naturally, our work is best suited to students who are not experiencing the best of times; but to deny others the joy of fishing and the educational benefits of Fishing for Schools would be wrong. To observe the response and often altered path of a young person having been on a Fishing for Schools course is the stuff of dreams. I would never claim that it changes lives, but what we do in our small way is to profoundly alter perception, to challenge and offer routes into learning that have not been explored before. It is cathartic: for the student and the coach.
The clear success of Fishing for Schools would simply not be possible without a rather unique partnership. The partnership between our team of coaches and schools is the vital link - and something that we at TCAF should be bellowing from rooftops. Not only are these committed and gifted angling coaches exceptional fishers, but also embody the magic ingredients - being perceptive, caring insightful human beings who teach subtly, carefully, studiously and skillfully.
One school and their coach - our coach - embodies the ethos and excellence that we have strived for these past 12 or more years. Orchard School in Kent and our coach, Kevin Durman.
Orchard School in Canterbury is deemed a Special School and meets the pressing needs of the surrounding community to assist, gently educate and enhance the lives of some very troubled young people.
Over the past three years, under the gentle guidance of the now Head Teacher, Patrick Kelleher, together with Kevin, a continuous Fishing programme has brought young people together in wind, rain and shine on various local fisheries to not just catch fish, but create a bond, come to understand the connection between landscape, water, fish, plants and animals, and what role the human has within this natural diversity. It also helps students to learn and understand size, weight, measurement, volume, biology and natural studies that would, in a class room setting, be an anathema.
As a teaching formula, Fishing for Schools works. But more, as a way of developing friendship, companionship and the chance to fulfil their potential, it works, too. The quiet and withdrawn become excited and vocal. The continually restless become calm; the turbulent, serene; the agitated, settled; the confrontational, amenable and amiable. Fishing can do all these things, as long as it has the right pilot to steer the craft. Kevin is that pilot.
Kevin Durman is without doubt one of the finest coarse anglers we have in the UK. Studied, methodical, knowledgeable and creative. His naval background brings about an air of discipline and punctuality that has a huge impact on both his angling and the students he teaches. As with all our coaches, it is the compassion and care that he brings to young people’s lives that transcends all.
If they listen intently to Kevin, as they do, students will learn quickly and thoroughly; but more than that, a student will become part of Kevin’s unique methodology and find inner calm and discipline. Fishing for Schools is a rather remarkable programme in the way it touches so many facets of a young person. There is more to teaching than found in a classroom and there is certainly more to knowledge than via traditional paths. We offer that alternative.
So what does the future hold for Fishing for Schools? Well no one can be certain.
We hope a codifying of our unique educational programme formalised into a National Curriculum-based activity. Importantly, sustained growth and bringing the sheer joy of fishing into more young lives.
Fishing is a fine thing - and it helps. It helps bring calm, mend, elate and inform. Not bad for a sport that is often considered purely sedentary and isolationist