FBB Virtual School - What have we learnt so far?

FBB’s Head of Impact, Ceylon Andi Hickman, reflects on the learnings from our FBB Virtual School after the first half term of delivery. 

As schools across the country have begun to welcome back some of their students, many of the young people on FBB programmes will remain at home for the foreseeable future. As Year 8s and 9s, they don’t rank highly on the priority list to return to school before their peers with approaching exams. 

However, just because schools remain closed for them and they don’t have the immediate threat of looming exams, it doesn’t mean that these students aren’t learning. The FBB Virtual School has been a digital home to over 60% of our participants so far, a figure that has doubled since the beginning of lockdown. 

Through the FBB Virtual School, young people have had access to weekly digital group sessions focused on their social emotional wellbeing and completing their school work; one-to-one interventions with trauma-informed practitioners; daily Whatsapp group contact and Instagram Live content; and even a three-week intensive course on the art of spoken word poetry, which culminated in performing their lockdown-themed pieces to professional footballer and FBB Patron, Chris Smalling. 

We launched the FBB Virtual School in April after a rapid design sprint across six days: a process that enabled us to establish exactly what young people were experiencing and how we could best support them in the new digital world. Conducting 12+ hours of consultation directly with the people who matter most to our programme - young people, their parents, our frontline staff and partner schools - allowed us to decipher and define the problem our digital delivery model needed to solve. The remainder of the sprint concentrated on generating ideas to meet the needs, prototyping and establishing our approach to testing as quickly as we could.

Since then, we’ve seen week-on-week growth across each aspect of the programme and in five weeks, have delivered 642 one-to-one sessions, 198 virtual group sessions, 897 phone calls to parents and 30+ hours of bespoke oracy-based learning through the lens of spoken word poetry.

The stats are promising and we’re proud of our team for going to the lengths they have to support young people during lockdown. Whether that be delivering laptops (and footballs) to their front doors, delivering play therapy sessions using tools like Skribbl.io, or setting up soundclashes with their favourite DJs on Instagram Live: we’ve been getting creative with how we keep young people happy, healthy and motivated to learn despite the global situation.  

And don’t just take our word for it! Our young people have been open with their feedback every day. Isabella, a 14 year-old participant from Croydon, told us that “I still feel like you’re trying to work with the young kids out there, get us together and try to create something. You're trying to create something offline, online and trying to make us feel good. Seeing FBB carry on working and do your best with young people is really good. It helps me have hope and still say ‘ah it's gonna come back, it's not the end.’ We haven't seen each other for such a long time, it sometimes feels long but like you're trying to keep young people communicating at this time.”

virtual school

As with any pilot, our focus has been to learn as quickly as possible. Our practitioners feed into our evaluation process daily by sharing the challenges they’ve faced, their conversations with young people and of course, the moments when they really feel like they’d made an impact. Some of what we’re learning is brand new, helping us to make tweaks each week to improve our offer for young people. Other learning reinforces what we already knew, demonstrating that COVID-19 provides a new context for the application of our guiding principles. Three key lessons are as follows:

  1. Consistency is key. At a time when the world around them is changing so dramatically and “uncertainty” is all they hear, being a consistent and reliable presence in a young person’s life is of inherent value to their wellbeing. From the daily Whatsapp message to the weekly group session or the hour spent with their therapist, knowing that FBB will always be there - no matter the circumstance - goes a long way in making a young person feel safe, supported and able to learn. 
  1. Football isn’t the driver, relationships are. When we talk about our methodology, we often describe football as the ‘trojan horse’: it’s the thing that gets young people through the door when they begin a programme, allowing us then to engage them with their education. Since lockdown, the hour with FBB on the football pitch has disappeared, yet young people are still turning up to their digital sessions. We believe this is due to the intensely relational nature of our work, encouraging young people to feel valued completely in their own right. It’s the connection with their FBB Practitioner that keeps them coming back each week.
  1. Young people are the ones with the solutions. How do you get a group of young people to do school work when there’s no school to go to or motivation to do so? Simply, you ask them. By creating a space where young people feel safe to open up about the challenges they’re facing with their school work, they’ll not only tell you exactly what they need but often come up with the solutions themselves. Our approach has been to build on this by focusing on their strengths, provide agency and choice, target-set and trouble-shoot when they encounter difficulties. As a result, we’ve seen older students mentoring their younger teammates, Year 9 girls establishing their own Whatsapp support groups for core subjects, and boys collectively problem-solving their History homework on group video sessions with FBB. 

All of this learning has been invaluable to us in moving into the next phase of supporting young people in a digital context. At FBB, we’ve built our reputation on doing whatever it takes to provide academic, behavioural and emotional support to some of the most disengaged and at-risk young people in our education system. We work in close partnership with schools to deliver classroom, pitch and one to one support to our students, both during term time and throughout the school holidays.  We exist to ensure that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds finish school with their English and Maths GCSEs, alongside the key skills they’ll need to make a successful transition into adulthood. 

The likely partial return to school from September 2020 presents new challenges for schools as to how to deliver academic outcomes amid the strict constraints of social distancing. Our approach is based on the recognition that the academic and mental health needs of our young people will be greater than ever but that the challenges schools will face in providing support to them will also be greater than ever. 

We are ready to provide the flexibility, responsiveness and targeted support to ensure that we can continue to work with our partner schools during this time. In doing so we intend to work more closely than ever before with our partner schools to ensure that all our young people recover from the lockdown and go on to achieve good GCSEs.

Ceylon Andi Hickman

Head of Impact, FBB

If you want to support our FBB Virtual School, you can contact us to donate laptops/tablets for young people, become a monthly supporter or sign up to our newsletter. Click here to subscribe to the newsletter.

We are also launching a special fitness challenge to bring together the whole of the FBB Family. Our community is vital to us at this time and your donations could help support the ongoing development and delivery of our FBB Virtual School. Find out more about the FBB2020 campaign here.

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