Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

How did one school get its most disruptive pupils to turn up to an after-school homework club? By appealing to their feet. Sarah Cassidy hears why the Football Beyond Borders scheme is on to a winner
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At 3.30pm every Friday, after school has finished for the week and the last bell of the day has rung, a strange thing happens at Archbishop Lanfranc Academy in Croydon. Fifteen 12- and 13-year-olds who were once among the most disruptive, underachieving and worst behaved students in their year group, voluntarily turn up to a homework club.

Many had terrible attendance records, struggled to pay attention in class and even failed to turn up for their own detentions. But now they happily give up their own time after school to do extra work.

What's different about this after-school club is that it combines additional academic support with weekly football sessions, one-to-one mentoring and an international football trip.

Although it has only been running at the school since last year, the Football Beyond Borders programme has already produced some remarkable results.

All of the boys involved improved their attendance while involved in the programme, three quarters saw a drop in number of homework detentions and the number of students on Behaviour Report dropped from 11 to two.

"We are delighted with the results of FBB," says Michael del Rio, Archbishop Lanfranc's principal.

"What works extremely well is that although it gets kids playing football it's actually tied very closely to targets to improve their learning.

"Students spend the first half of the session doing work with support from FBB. These students have made academic progress as well as in their sporting achievements."

The results are all the more impressive given the upheaval that the school had been through. It had the worst results in the borough and had been placed in special measures in September 2013 before becoming an academy a year later.

Tom Bateman, the school's head of year 7 and head of history says: "The school had had a gradual decline ending up in special measures. This was a year group for whom their pride in themselves had reached an all-time low.

"At the time this cohort were the youngest in the school (year 7) but had three problems: they lacked an understanding of why they were at school, they didn't have any pride in themselves and generally their behaviour for learning was not productive."

Tom Bateman, head of History and Year 7 (Charlie Forgham Bailey)

Mr Bateman also ran the school football team and had noticed that the most disruptive students in lessons were likely to be members of the squad.

By co-incidence a childhood friend had recently founded an organisation that aimed to harness the power of football to transform the lives of young people at risk of being marginalised.

Jasper Kain set up FBB while a student at the University of London in 2009. Having played for Chelsea and Gillingham youth teams, Mr Kain had hoped to become a professional footballer but was released from his contract at the age of 16. Five years later he set up FBB and before Archbishop Lanfranc was working mainly with youth groups.

"In the first session I remember coming down here in February 2014 and seeing one of the kids punch another one," he says. "There was a significant amount of fear and chaos within the group. It felt like a lot of young people were having to fend for themselves. There was no sense of a team. The school had just been placed in special measures. We had a group of year 7s vying to find their place in the pack. There was a lot of competition. We had to try to get them to relate to realise that everyone's part of this team. I think initially we worried whether we would be able to do it. It felt like putting a sticking plaster on an open wound. The first thing we had to do was to create a safe space where they could trust safe reliable adults in their live. There had to be a reason for them to turn up – initially that was football."

The first half of each weekly session is spent learning and the second playing football. When the scheme first began at Archbishop Lanfranc it was decided that the first part of every session was devoted to a homework club where volunteers helped boys with set work. But now it has moved on to wider literacy work, including making films about football, writing match commentaries and interviewing footballers and sports journalists.

Mr Kain says: "We started to realise if you can shift their attitude to learning and incentivise them, they will start doing their homework for themselves and we can use the time for something else. Now we do football match writing, football commentary and a trip to Barcelona this summer that they are researching, fundraising and organising. Football is just the starting point."

Archbishop Lanfranc was the first school to join the FBB Schools programme, a three-year programme which provides football coaching, tutoring, peer mentoring and travel.

The impressive results there have inspired other schools to join the programme, which now works with six schools, with more planned to join in September.

Mr Kain says: "We have given them a reason to turn up to school; attendance has gone from 86 to 96 per cent. Generally they have a sense of pride and a sense of belonging. This is because of being part of FBB, and it also produces greater pride in being part of their school. They are way more confident. When we first came here there was a lot of fear and often that translates into aggression."

The programme is funded by Sporteducate – a joint programme run by Sported, a leading sport-for-development charity, and Deutsche Bank – which aims to help disadvantaged young people by using sport and early educational interventions. Lekan Ojumu, Sporteducate programme manager, said: "We are here as an umbrella organisation to develop young people through sport. We develop soft skills. We work with young people who are struggling, who are in danger of becoming NEET.

Hashim's behaviour has improved since joining the FBB programme (Charlie Forgham-Bailey)

"Sported provides a lot of support which is necessary because most grass roots organisations do not have the resources to administer, evaluate and create tools. We provide training for staff members. Sported is about building the capacity of grass-roots organisations, because there are great groups out there doing good work but struggling to survive."

The students who are taking part in the programme agree that it has turned their lives around. Hashim Otban 12, says: "I think over the last year we have all improved. There is much less arguing. I think the behaviour in school has improved a lot. If it wasn't for FBB, one or two of us would have been excluded by now. They have helped a lot with homework – before, most of us just didn't do it. Now I'm doing really well in school."

Team-mate Mehrshad Zibaej, 12, agrees: "FBB is just the best thing that ever happened to me. I have been on a YouTube channel and am going on tour this year to Spain. My attendance wasn't good but it is now."

Rashad Jasir 13, says the scheme has given him new skills and a new goal. "If something went wrong in a match we used to argue. Everyone's concentration would be gone so we lost a lot of matches because of that. It has also helped me discover what I want to be when I leave school. I want to be an interviewer. I have already interviewed a lot of footballers. I want to do that for a career but without FBB I would never have known that you could have a career doing that." Jordan Mabaya, 13, adds: "I used to get in a lot of trouble before I started with FBB. Jasper's first speech to us was inspiring. FBB do not just teach you football. It's not just about football. It's about opening your eyes to all the opportunities available to you."

Mr del Rio agrees that the programme has transformed pupils' attitudes and achievements.

The school has been so impressed with the programme that it has expanded it from just Friday afternoons by adding an extra session on Mondays. It has just started a girls' group after requests from pupils, begun a programme for feeder primary schools and expanded to include another academy in the same group.

Mr del Rio says: "The students... are much more confident. The ones who have made the films about football are much more articulate in the classroom. There have been real educational benefits of being able to have question and answer sessions with their football heroes.

"This project is not just about getting a group of kids to kick a ball around. A lot of projects just focus on support. This is unique in developing the whole person.

"We are going to make sure they have the skills to succeed in life."