In Pictures: Preventing School Exclusions With Football Beyond Borders

By Zeena Elhassan, Aziz Journalism intern 11 Dec 2020
Education, Young People
Football Beyond Borders participant Isaiah. Credit: Supplied

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“I learnt that I actually like school. I always said that I hated [it.] But it’s more now that I actually kind of like it because I’d rather socialise with my mates.”

These are the words of Leo, from London, on how lockdown changed his perception of going to school.

He is featured in a new photo book called ‘Beyond Lockdown’ by the education charity Football Beyond Borders (FBB).

Founded in 2009, FBB helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds – who are disengaged at school but passionate about football – to finish school with the grades needed to begin their successful transition into adulthood.

This includes young people at risk of being excluded – an experience proven to devastate a child’s educational and life outcomes.

During lockdown, FBB travelled the country, meeting young people outside their homes to discover the impact the lack of school was having.

Their book chronicles what school meant to the nation’s children during this historic period in which they were unable to go.

“This year, for the first time, every family experienced the challenge of children not being in school,” Jack Reynolds, FBB’s co-director said.

“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.”

The second stage of their campaign – called No More Empty Chairs – seeks to use the experience of lockdown to galvanise people into doing everything possible to minimise exclusions.

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Selma. Credit: FBB

FBB’s work runs in partnership with secondary schools, and provides long-term intensive support to develop crucial skills.

These include responsible decision-making, social awareness, and emotional skills needed to nurture positive relationships with peers, practitioners and teachers.

The charity’s 2018/19 impact report boasts impressive results, especially when it comes to supporting young people at risk of being excluded from school.

Ninety-five percent of participants who were at risk of exclusion at the start of the year finished the year still in school. Meanwhile, 72% of FBB participants improved their behaviour in school.

After the pandemic prompted school closures, 98% of FBB’s participants finished the year in school.

The charity worked hard to maintain relationships throughout the lockdown, adapting services to provide 332 virtual sessions, 1,158 one-to-one calls with participants, and 1,853 parent/carer calls.

And while number of students aged 10 to 14 excluded from school has risen nationally, FBB participants have bucked this trend.

“The FBB coaches have built excellent relationships with our learners,” said Patrick Russell, headteacher at Bolton’s Ladybridge school.

“You can see the transfer of the ideas from the classroom to the football pitch and the thought provoking conversations taking shape in a practical sense is great to see.”

EachOther looks at some of the stories of young people who have been positively impacted by the inspiring work FBB does.

Tiam. Credit: FBB


Tiam is described as a young person with “bundles of energy and a sharp, intelligent mind”.

However, his feelings about school and authority came from a place of deep distrust.

He found it difficult to engage with the curriculum and to channel his energy into positive relationships with his peers and teachers. This often escalated into arguments, negative behaviour points and fixed-term exclusions – which Tiam felt were unfairly imposed upon him.

Over time and with support from FBB, he was able to remedy these relationships. He saw his role within the organisation as being ‘the master of his own ship’.

The charity says that Tiam has shown an improved ability to reflect on the reasons why he reacts to teachers and his peers in certain ways, and has demonstrated a sound understanding of choice and consequence.

Passionate about the world of art, he put himself forward for the Still Life creative project, where he was keen to form new relationships with young people and practitioners outside of his school.


Mahnoor. Credit: FBB


When Mahnoor joined FBB, she found it difficult to engage in sessions and find her voice, choosing to instead work alone, and often received negative behaviour points for asking inappropriate questions in sessions.

The practitioners at FBB offered weekly one-to-one support to Mahnoor, which encouraged her to speak up and to recognise that her insights are welcomed and appreciated.

They awarded her positive behaviour instead of dwelling on the negative ones, which meant that over time, her behaviour adapted. She soon felt able to engage in difficult conversations about life during lockdown.

As FBB transitioned into a digital space, Mahnoor worked on a project that celebrated her religion and heritage, in which she explored the importance of hijab and Muslim representation in support, and how the football world can be more accommodating to diversity.

This work led her to be commended by her headteacher for her willingness to share her feelings and work with a public audience, and has since developed into a real leader of her group.

Mohammed. Credit: FBB


Mohammed has been a participant with FBB for two years.

His first year with FBB was fantastic. However, he backtracked into negative patterns of behaviour after returning to school in September last year, making relationships with teachers increasingly difficult.

Through weekly one-to-one meetings with FBB, Mohammed was able to demonstrate an ability to resist peer pressure, to understand the importance of agency and choice, and to speak mindfully about the relationship between him and his peers.

FBB workers fostered relationships within the school; they held regular informal check-ins with his tutor to track his attitude, punctuality and general school behaviour.

Throughout lockdown, Mohammed demonstrated a deeper understanding of his identity, speaking about his experience of masculinity, leadership and peer pressure at ‘Football For All’, a platform awarded for his consistency and attitude to learning in Term 2.

According to Bruk Abdu, FBB’s head of interventions: “Mohammed’s ability to think about his relationships and the wider world he exists within is promising and demonstrates his ability to think beyond the boundaries of social norms.

“He has so often carried himself authentically in a range of social environments – when hosting the mayor of London, speaking about masculinity on stage in front of 100s, or with his peers on the football pitch.”

Shalom. Credit: FBB


FBB has also helped protect Shalom from exclusion, but in a different sense of the word.

Rather than being at risk of formal exclusion, the Elmgreen School pupil’s shyness had kept her from making positive contributions in both her lessons at school and in FBB sessions.

She often chose to go under the radar and follow the group’s choices, which made it difficult to elevate her own qualities and to fully maximise on her learning potential.

Throughout her time in the FBB Virtual School over lockdown, her self-confidence and ability to leave her comfort zone grew.

She put herself forward to take part in a project called “Hair Diaries”, where she described her hair as “only an accessory to my beauty that comes from within”.

Her creativity was showcased through FBB’s Instagram platform, where her writing and imagery was displayed to 17,000 followers.

The fact that she now celebrates her work and presents it with conviction, when she initially doubted her abilities, demonstrates an increase in self-assurance which will help to maximise upcoming opportunities in the best way.

  • To buy the ‘Beyond Lockdown’ book, click here. For every book purchased, Football Beyond Borders will donate a copy to one of their participants and schools that they work with across the United Kingdom.


About The Author

Zeena Elhassan Aziz Journalism intern

I studied Social Anthropology at LSE, followed by an MPhil in the Sociology of Marginality and Exclusion at the University of Cambridge. I am extremely passionate about social justice and community-led action, with a particular focus on race, migration, gender and how these areas intersect in various ways. I enjoy experimenting with educational pedagogies, exploring the potential transformative nature of theatre through political education, and watching live music.

I studied Social Anthropology at LSE, followed by an MPhil in the Sociology of Marginality and Exclusion at the University of Cambridge. I am extremely passionate about social justice and community-led action, with a particular focus on race, migration, gender and how these areas intersect in various ways. I enjoy experimenting with educational pedagogies, exploring the potential transformative nature of theatre through political education, and watching live music.

Find out more

Football Beyond. Borders
Football Beyond. Borders

Football Beyond Borders is an education charity which uses the power of football to support disadvantaged young people in the UK.

Find out more