Football Beyond Borders' girls programme works with teenage girls who are passionate about football, but disengaged in school, by helping them on and off the pitch.
Why did you start Football Beyond Borders?
Football Beyond Borders was founded on a question - how do we support our most vulnerable young people to thrive in school?
We exist to tackle school exclusions (there has been a 66% increase in permanent exclusions among girls over the past five years, compared to 32% for boys in the same period), poor mental wellbeing and low attainment at school.
How did you understand what people wanted?
The FBB Girls programme started four years after we first began delivering to boys.
We wanted to ensure we designed a bespoke programme which was tailored to the needs of girls, so we started with research (there is an extensive evidence base for effective work with teenage girls) and conversations.
Before we started any delivery, we consulted Year 11 girls who had seen FBB in their school for the past four years. We asked them what they'd want from a programme like FBB, and they shaped the design from the beginning.
They then volunteered each week to support the delivery of the programme to a cohort of Year 7 and 8 girls. We asked questions like: "what were the barriers to entry?", "why did girls drop out of football?" "what did schools need support with?"
The next key aspect was constant innovation.
We are continuously reviewing and adapting our girls' curriculum to ensure it responds to the challenges they are facing in school and sport. Young people are experts in their own experience, and their feedback is critical to develop a programme that works.
How did you promote your activities?
FBB is unequivocally committed to improving education outcomes, but we have also built a powerful youth brand and an engaged audience (65k+ following across all socials) through our connection to the world’s most popular participation sport - football.
This helps us to partner with some of the worlds biggest brands and host incredible events, such as our annual showcase, where we are able to invite huge audiences to witness young people from our programmes host and take centre stage, interviewing and sharing their school experiences with stars from across football such as Gareth Southgate, Ian Wright and Lotte Wubben-Moy.
What impact has Football Beyond Borders had on its participants?
Our students are 11 times more likely to achieve their GCSE English and maths compared to national comparison groups, plus 95% of our students who were at risk of exclusion at the start of the year remained in school.
“When I started my FBB journey in year 8 I enjoyed playing football but always was in trouble at school. Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to come to sessions because I would be in trouble for how I reacted to things which happened throughout the day. FBB really helped me find better ways to deal with school situations and develop my self-management which definitely helped me stay out of trouble. FBB also helped me become a better team player and work better with my teammates through playing football” - Aalia
“FBB has made Isabel much more of a positive individual and has built her confidence. It has helped open her eyes to women’s equality but has also shown her that nothing can stand in her way of reaching her potential. It is something she looks forward to and sometimes gets her through the school week.” - Isabel’s mum
What challenges have you faced when launching this initiative, and how did you overcome them?
When FBB started our girls programme in 2018 we had a proven impact model for working with boys.
During negotiations with school partners, many were unsure that we’d be able to recreate the magic of FBB with girls because of a misperception that they wouldn’t be interested in football and therefore wouldn’t engage.
So we delivered three programmes at a loss to the organisation, before building the business case and developing the impact model which then allowed us to access support from Sport England in following years.
Fast forward five years, we’ve worked with over 750 girls across three regions and now, requests for our girls programme are oversubscribed.
What are your plans for Football Beyond Borders?
We want to reach a minimum of 65% of England’s education ‘cold’ spots by 2026.
The Government’s announcement for equal access to football in schools for girls - spearheaded by the Lionesses and Lotte Wubben-Moy - is a start, but we must ensure that it also helps to transform girls' experiences at school to empower them to achieve their goals.
We are also working with Karen Carney MBE and her team at DCMS as part of the government’s Women’s Football Review, to ensure that football becomes culturally relevant for teenage girls in inner cities.
Top tip for others looking to engage teenage girls
Foster a culture of belonging for young people and understand contexts at home and at school. You have to develop healthy group norms and find ways to deepen and strengthen bonds through shared experiences and relationships.
Developing social and emotional skills in any sporting environment is just as important as developing technical ability. Finally, make football relevant for a teenage girl by creating cultural crossovers, elevating girls’ voices in football and hijacking spaces in men’s football culture.
FBB embodied the action 'self-affirming'. Why is this important?
We have to expand the definition of girlhood and what is acceptable for a teenage girl to play sports. But you also have to elevate that. You have to tell the stories at a really high level so that they capture mass audiences. Just like This Girl Can does.
But we need more, and we need visibility in places you wouldn’t expect to see teenage girls.
Also, politicising the act of playing sport for teenage girls can be a powerful motivator in getting them to engage: if you show them how the world is designed to limit their ability to play sport, you can motivate them to take up space and defy society’s expectations of them.
FBB’s programmes broadly follow a journey of discovery along the lines of ‘self’, ‘others’ and then ‘world’.
Affirming and supporting teenage girls' choices when it comes to their passions and interests is key. This is because young people often need help to believe that the thing they are interested in is cool.
Teenagers are hypersensitive to peer approval, so they are primed to follow the crowd in order to ‘fit-in’, so if we want our society to be as diverse and extraordinary as possible, then we have to create the space for young people to be whoever it is they want to be.