Football has been used in different ways to serve educational and social agendas.
Football clubs across the country are involved in delivering Positive Futures projects to ten to 19-year-olds in deprived wards. These cover everything from mentoring activity to drug awareness and education programmes.
The Playing for Success programme has led to the establishment of study centres at football clubs for children who need to improve their literacy, numeracy and information technology skills. There are also many projects based at individual clubs, delivered by their Football in the Community schemes. These initiatives don't set out to encourage youngsters to go on to higher education, but they are pertinent to that aim as the main factor constraining further increases in participation is low achievement at age 16.
The Aimhigher national project, Raising Achievement and Aspirations through Football (a partnership between Manchester Metropolitan University and FITC) aims to raise achievement as well as awareness of higher education as a viable option for participants. It targets underachieving children in Years 9 to 11 who have the potential to achieve good GCSEs. The project offers a weekly after-school "catch-up" club. Students are motivated to attend through the involvement of the local professional football club, which provides football coaching, the chance to gain coaching qualifications and opportunities for stadium tours and match attendance.
Also, players and higher education students help to raise aspirations.
Sixty schools and clubs are involved in the project.
There is no reason why such a project, and others, could not involve the 16-plus age group, not least those undertaking sports-related courses, with links being established with higher education sports courses. Football is a significant motivational force in the lives of many youngsters.
Education-football links offer much for those who need to be inspired to raise their ambitions.
Rob Halsall is head of widening participation at Manchester Metropolitan University.