Football Beyond Borders are using the World Cup as inspiration for a series of projects that will support young people at risk of exclusion from school.
The education charity works with more than 400 young people per week across 24 projects in London, using their passion for football as a tool to boost social and emotional skills, confidence, leadership, resilience, trust, attitude to learning and aspirations.
School exclusions in England have risen an astonishing 40% since late 2014 with 35 children being expelled from school every day. The average age of an excluded child is 13.5. Over 80% of young people in Pupil Referral Units were excluded from school and many go on to serve jail sentences.
Football Beyond Borders' purpose is to cut off this depressing pipeline at source, with intensive six- to eight-week programmes that are delivered via their 'golden triangle' of football coaching, teaching and youth work. Half of young people's time is in the classroom and half on the football pitch.
The classroom-based projects have a football theme and always end with a public 'product' at the end of each term. In the past these have included films, magazines, organised tournaments or live debates. These promote effective collaboration and teamwork as well as a process of perfecting and re-drafting.
In the build-up to the start of the World Cup on June 14, the charity has launched a project called 'City of Nations' in partnership with Nike. Young people will put on a photography exhibition focusing on six countries with which they have a connection (either birthplace or through parents): England, Brazil, Portugal, France, Poland and Nigeria.
Another project run in partnership with law firm Mishcon de Reya is called 'Deal of the Century', with young people preparing for a live negotiation with lawyers in which they have to adopt the debating skills of different football managers; the calm and well-reasoned Arsene Wenger, for example, or the confrontational and wily Jose Mourinho.
The 'Pass the Ball' project sees young people design a single patch on a football summing up what the World Cup means to them, with the patches combined to create a ball, which will be designed and manufactured.
In addition, to coincide with the World Cup, Football Beyond Borders are crowdfunding to pay for a new transformative learning hub on the Angell Estate in Brixton, south London. With the average council cutting its youth budget by £1million, at least 30 youth centres (12,700 places) have been lost. This new hub aims to alleviate that issue for local at-risk young people.
Jasper Kain, Co-Founder and Director, told ConnectSport: "The environment that some young people are growing up in is just not providing the right level of nourishment and it's not conducive to their positive development. We have to counteract that.
"I believe there's a vacuum in resource and youth provision across the country, especially in the holidays or at weekends. Every community should have the sort of hub we're building here, properly resourced with coaches, mentors and role models.
"Some of these young people have experienced a lot of pain which they often repress, and our job is to support them in overcoming that. If you create the right environment, you offer consistency and create opportunities for young people – and there are sufficient resources – it can be incredibly rewarding work.
"The transformation in some of the young people on our projects is incredible. One lad told me his family had placed bets on when he was going to get excluded, but after working with us he became a prefect at school. The proud smile on his face, and the faces of our young people when they interview professional players or are in the tunnel at Wembley on our projects with the FA ... that is wonderfully enriching."
The charity superbly capitalise on young people's passion for football to achieve holistic outcomes. Their football coaching follows the popular 'constraints-led approach' of teaching skills through adapted games which deter or promote certain behaviours and improve social and emotional skills. The classroom projects also work towards a fun and tangible football-themed end product, offering a resulting sense of achievement.
"We believe that football is a space to develop strong rapport and relationships between young people and adult mentors," said Jasper.
"These young people often, deep down, don’t have that much belief in themselves, their community or ultimately their futures. Many we work with might give off a veneer of confidence, but often there's a strong element of self-doubt, lack of optimism and trust, and a suspicion that you might let them down.
"We want to provide them with both the opportunities and the skills to be able to turn up to school, engage in their learning and reach 15 or 16 with a belief that they can achieve their potential and progress into adulthood with a sense of wellbeing and optimism for the future.
"We want to show them there's a reason to engage, a viable alternative to short-term thinking, and to create the growth mindset that if they work hard they're capable of achieving. Ultimately we want to avoid them becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training), but more than that, feeling proud of who they are, where they come from and having a stake in society."