Beyond Lockdown - How Football Can Help End School Exclusions

In 2019, 830,000 days of school were missed due to children being excluded. In the last five years, there has been a 60 percent increase in the number of pupils excluded from England’s schools. In many parts of the country, the system that should be supporting our school children is letting them down.

For my co-Director Jack and I, school exclusions are a matter of national interest. Every cohort of permanently excluded students will go on to cost the state an extra £2.1 billion in education, health, benefits and criminal justice costs, yet more and more pupils are being excluded each year.  Children with diagnosed mental health, those from poorer backgrounds and certain ethnic minority groups, and those who have been in care are disproportionately represented in the statistics. 

School exclusions directly and negatively affect educational and life outcomes of pupils - only 1% of excluded pupils get five good GCSEs they need to access the workforce. 

That’s why we set up Football Beyond Borders. Initially it was our response to the London riots of 2011 and our sense that young people did not have the opportunities or agency to shape their future in a positive manner. With football as our common love, we set out to see whether it could be an effective vehicle to tackle this. 

By the start of 2020, we had been a charity for six years, delivering over 60 programmes each week in London and the North West of England, with partners such as Gillette and Nike and a whole host of professional footballers supporting our work. 

The closing of schools in March brought an end to this six year, unblemished run. For the first time in our history we had to tell our young people that there wouldn’t be a session in that initial week of school closure. 

Knowing how hard isolation would be for our young people, within three weeks, our team had shifted much of our work online - e-sports in the form of FIFA video games to replace our pitch sessions, Virtual Therapy to replace our Play-Based Football Therapy approach, and our social and emotional classroom sessions being delivered entirely virtually under the guise of Passion Projects. 

This adaptability allowed us to keep regular contact, and to maintain those trusting, consistent relationships with 92% of our young people through the period of school closure. 

As well as this, we decided to travel the country, to meet young people outside their homes and take a photographic record of the impact the lack of school was having. The result is a stunning photography book, “Beyond Lockdown”, published today.

The strength of the relationships our young people have with friends and teachers shines through in the wonderful, warm images. The quotes that accompany the photos demonstrate their realisation that so much of their personal growth as individuals takes place inside classrooms and playgrounds. 

For the first time, every family experienced the challenge of children not being in school this year. So, now we all know what it means when our children lose their education. We believe this awareness is an opportunity for us to shine a light on the issue of school exclusions and ensure we give disadvantaged young people the support they need. 

We know from our work over the last six years that if a supportive web of relationships can be present in every child’s life, we can prevent the most vulnerable children from being unnecessarily excluded and enhance the educational experience of all children. 

It is not down to schools alone to solve fundamental societal issues. As the RSA Report, ‘Pinball Kids - preventing school exclusions’ published in March pointed out, per pupil funding has fallen in real terms by 8 percent in the past 10 years. This has only become more acute  in the past six months. We have seen where children’s vulnerability means their school has to take additional measures to keep them safe: doing home visits and upskilling staff in trauma-informed practice. These young people need our political focus to mitigate the growing impact of the trauma gap in our economy and society.

Through the coming weeks, the “Beyond Lockdown” campaign will feature personal testimonies from pupils, families and headteachers, along with powerful visual demonstrations of why it is so important that we use the experience of lockdown to do everything we can to minimise exclusions. 

We’ll also be demonstrating the impact of our own work - that by using football to reach young people and support them with programmes, 93% of Football Beyond Borders at risk participants complete school, pass exams and have their life opportunities transformed.

The “Beyond Lockdown” photography book is available to buy from Football Beyond Borders website.

As part of the book launch, for every copy of the book purchase, Football Beyond Borders will gift a copy to a secondary school.

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