At the height of the lockdown earlier this year, schools across the country were forced to close.
For millions of students, being expected to study at home was a challenge and added to the stresses of the pandemic.
Since 2014, nationwide charity Football Beyond Borders (FBB) has been helping disadvantaged students improve social and emotional skills and learning but lockdown came with a new opportunity to elevate what they were already working on.
The organisation works on a variety of creative and educational projects with more than 1,000 students in 36 schools across London, Essex and the North West – including schools in Chorlton, Salford and Hulme.
According to the charity’s statistics, 95 percent of participants involved in the project who were at risk of exclusion at the start of the school year remained in school at the end of the year.
More than three quarters of students enrolled in FBB’s programmes also achieved a level four or above in English or Maths GCSEs.
FBB’s Commications Manager, Kelvyn Quagraine, says the programme is so effective because it offers a more tailored and personal approach to learning alongside traditional education.
“It’s this fundamental thing where we place young people’s passions at the heart of their learning,” Kelvyn tells the Manchester Evening News.
“Our process is all about creating an environment where young people can thrive and socially and emotionally develop into successful adults and contribute to society.
“You tend to find the educational curriculum can pit people against each other whereas we’re all about collaborative learning – It’s about us changing that educational space and making it more creative.”
The FBB programmes work alongside schools to create a curriculum of traditional subjects and creative projects.
It’s this tailored approach that has helped many students facing exclusion in school to actually thrive.
When schools were shut during lockdown, the programme went completely virtual but the FBB team were able to turn this challenge into a positive.
“Our virtual school programme basically focused on the wellbeing of young people,” Kelvyn adds.
“We had morning workout classes that made exercise fun and accessible and spoken word projects where they would talk about what they can see in their room and how they felt about lockdown.
“We also did a hair diaries project where we explored culture and heritage through hair and a monopoly challenge where we got young people to map out local landmarks in their area and visit them during their one hour of exercise.”
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Going digital also gave the chance to fully understand some of the issues facing young people at home.
“We discovered that many young people don’t actually have a football at home,” Kelvyn explained.
“We worked with local partners like Nike to distribute footballs across all our projects in the country.
“We also found there were quite a few young people who didn’t have access to WiFi at home. We worked with organisations to develop a fund and resources to improve access to online learning and find ways to work with their parents to access a computer.
“A lot of our young people found it really difficult to have education in the same space as their homes, and not everyone has the head space to navigate around that.”
Alongside creative projects, the FBB programme also includes therapeutic sessions allowing young people to speak one-on-one with someone who understands their situation.
“It’s a space where our young people can speak about their concerns or worries with someone
“We often discover that many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are expected to speak and confide to therapists that are usually white, middle-class and female and that doesn’t always translate to the same lived-in experience.
“We hire people within the community that look and speak to that experience. It’s about having conversations, reflecting and unpacking things in order to help transform attitudes.”
FBB have been working closely with schools since they have reopened in order to assess how the pandemic is impacting students and to also attempt to return to face-to-face sessions.
“A lot of things have changed at school and the whole structure of social interaction has shifted,” Sameed Rezayan, the Production and Development Lead for FBB, adds.
“There’s one-way systems and students can’t play with their friends in other classes or year groups. It’s hard for adults to comprehend this new common sense, let alone young people.
“Pretty much most of our programmes are running in-person sessions again now, obviously following safeguarding and COVID restrictions, and that was very important for us to be able to do.
“For us, it’s just about being very proactive but also having that flexibility to be reactive – if a school tells us they’re closing or can’t hold sessions, then we’re now able to adapt the model to virtual sessions.
“Schools and parents trust us to be able to facilitate those relationships whether it’s in person or online.”
To highlight the impact that the pandemic has had on students, FBB visited young people across the country outside their homes to create a photographic record of the nation’s school children during lockdown.
The result is a ‘Beyond Lockdown’ coffee table book that shows the importance of school and how missing out on education could have a wider impact on young people’s lives.
“We found there was a real strong narrative on how many young people missed school,” Keynan says.
“They started to realise that school was an important place for developing key relationships, they missed friends, their teachers and they missed the routine.
“There’s so many subconscious benefits that school can have on a young person’s life that only will have taken a pandemic like this to really truly understand.”
Jack Reynolds, who has been co-founder and director at FBB since its inception, said that the ‘Beyond Lockdown’ project has helped give a clear indication of the work the charity needs to do going forward.
“In many parts of the country, the system that should be supporting our school children is letting them down,” Jack said.
“This year, for the first time, every family experienced the challenge of children not being in school. Now we all know what it means when our children lose their education.
“We must use this awareness as an opportunity to ensure we do everything we can to ensure that young people remain in school and do not become socially isolated at this critical stage in their lives.”
Kelvyn added that the organisation is now working extensively on fixing the ‘physical and mental effects’ of lockdown and exclusion.
“This was the first opportunity for us to speak out about how exclusion can impact young people,” he said.
“If this is the effect it has when everyone is excluded, then why should we live with a society and educational system that allows people to be as excluded as it does?
“Lockdown has enabled us to look at how we can better support schools and young people and how to utilise people’s assets and give them a sense of purpose.
“A sense of worth can help take your mind off the stresses you have.”
You can find out more about Football Beyond Border’s work here.
You can order the ‘Beyond Lockdown’ book here. For every copy purchased, a copy will be sent to a secondary school.
-- to www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk