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Last Updated: Monday, 4 April, 2005, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
Football 'helps pupil behaviour'
Arsenal players Thierry Henry and Fredrik Ljungberg
Children were more interested in football than school
Football - despite its sometimes fiery image on the pitch - could help children excluded from school improve their behaviour, a study says.

Coaches from Arsenal spent an afternoon a week with 38 troubled pupils in Islington, north London, reducing truancy rates and classroom disruption.

Psychologist Kairen Cullen said they had been good role models for the 11 to 14-year-olds.

Football was an "exciting" way to get through to disaffected youths.

Weekend fracas

The findings come after Premiership football has been criticised for providing a bad example to children.

Last month, the deputy leader of the Secondary Heads Association said matches should only be screened after the 9pm watershed because of players' violence, swearing and dissent.

An on-pitch fight between Newcastle's Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer at the weekend has been condemned in the media.

Kairen Cullen, psychologist
A lot of the kids have trouble with authority, or dealing with their peers, or following rules. The training seems to have a good effect
Kairen Cullen, psychologist

But Ms Cullen, who works for CEA@Islington, the company which runs education in the borough, praised Arsenal's influence on the young people who took part in her project.

She told the BBC News website: "The club has excellent community links and a lot of the pupils are very interested in its fortunes.

"Their behaviour improved markedly when they had the football coaching. It's exciting and could be extended."

One session at the pupil referral unit - for children who have been excluded from mainstream schools - had to be cancelled because of poor behaviour.

However, one of the Arsenal coaches spoke to the children to explain why this had happened.

Ms Cullen said: "They listened when they were told the sessions would return if behaviour improved.

"A lot of the kids have trouble with authority, or dealing with their peers, or following rules. The training seems to have a good effect."

The group's behaviour and attendance were compared during a six-week period without football training and a six-week period where it was offered once a week.

The improvement, according to Ms Cullen, was marked.

She has plans to extend the project - funded by the Home Office's Positive Futures programme - to pupils aged 14 to 16.

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