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An extensive study conducted in Greater Manchester has uncovered the profound positive impact of intensive mentoring through football kickabouts on the wellbeing of troubled schoolchildren.

The project, involving over 2,000 pupils across numerous secondary schools, demonstrated a significant increase in happiness scores among students at risk of exclusion, despite their behavioral issues and special educational needs.

The initiative, led by the charity Football Beyond Borders (FBB), involves sending mentors, referred to as "coaches," into schools to serve as trusted adults for at-risk children. These coaches utilize elements of football games to teach children valuable coping mechanisms and foster better relationships, such as managing emotions when faced with challenges on the field.

The study findings have garnered attention from influential figures like Lord O’Donnell, a former head of the civil service, who advocates for the consideration of wellbeing impacts in policy decisions. The assessment conducted by Pro Bono Economics, chaired by O’Donnell, revealed that mentors delivering the program generated significant wellbeing benefits for each school, resulting in an average 0.6-point increase in pupils' scores on the Office for National Statistics Life Satisfaction 0-10 index.

James Reeves, senior policy lead at FBB, highlighted the importance of relationships and consistent role models in supporting children's development. He emphasized the need for more focus in the education system on nurturing such connections, citing football as a powerful tool in this endeavor.

Lord O’Donnell underscored the potential of sports-based interventions in enhancing wellbeing and future prospects, urging policymakers to prioritize sustainable wellbeing in decision-making. Government economists are increasingly recognizing the monetary value of wellbeing gains, suggesting that initiatives like the football mentoring program could yield substantial social and economic benefits by reducing exclusion rates and improving academic outcomes.

Martin Convey, assistant headteacher at Ladybridge High School in Bolton, praised the FBB program for its transformative impact on students, citing notable improvements in behavior and self-regulation among participants.

With rising concerns over declining life satisfaction among secondary school-age children, FBB is calling for immediate reforms to prioritize trusted relationships within the education system. While the Department for Education has initiated targeted support programs, campaigners emphasize the need for broader adoption of wellbeing measures in policy appraisals to address the wellbeing gap effectively. Photo by Weloc, Wikimedia commons.