Rebecca Dunning presenting from Wembley Stadium

When the Lionesses played Germany at Wembley Stadium in November 2019 in front of over 77,000 fans, it was probably the largest crowd at a women’s football match since 1920. Women’s football has been growing in popularity year on year, and this year England is hosting the Women’s EUROs at stadiums across the country. Yet, women footballers wages, tv coverage and opportunities are stagnating miles behind those for male players. Teenage girls are still dropping out of football at a high rate, and the harassment of women and girls, in and out of school, is a real and pressing issue.

No Barriers 2022 invited primary schools from across the UK to come together, be inspired by amazing women footballers of the past and present, and champion respect for women and girls, on their football pitches, in their schools, their communities and online. No Barriers 2022 is officially an Inspired by England 2022 project. Schools from areas across the UK took part including Nottingham, Lincolnshire, Rotherham, Manchester, Dorset, London, Southampton and Cardiff.

Over 1000 young people in years 4, 5 and 6 tuned in to hear from Big Ideas, and created Class Charters that championed respect for women and girls. These Charters gave young people a solid foundation on which to build positive action in their schools and communities. When asked why they wanted to take part in this event, one teacher said:

I have heard girls in my class say they are not as good as boys at playing football and that they are worried about boys making comments when they are playing.

Rebecca Dunning, professional footballer and Tournaments Delivery Assistant at The FA, co-hosted the event from Wembley Stadium and spoke about her experiences of fighting for girls football teams during her time at school. Rebecca has played for West Ham, Charlton Athletic and now plays for London City Lionesses. She said:

It was tough as I used to get told ‘you’re a girl you can’t play football’ and I once had someone say ‘eww they have a girl on their team’. It used to get to me because I was young but it made me try harder and I would prove them wrong and at the end they would say ‘you’re actually pretty good’. Proving them wrong is what kept me going.

Given the chance to ask Rebecca about her career, the chat box was flooded with questions. Curie Class from Millfields Primary School, Hackney, asked Rebecca what she planned to do once she retired and, even though she’s only 23, Rebecca replied she would love to go into coaching and keep inspiring young players like them.

Wainwright Primary Academy speaking to Rebecca and Lottie

437 of the 715 students that filled in a pre-event survey said that they already play football, but only 364 of them thought they would still be playing in 5 years. From the Class Charters that were submitted on the day it was clear that encouraging girls to play more football was a top issue for the schools that attended. For example in Wordsworth Primary School’s Charter (Southampton), they said:

We make a commitment to respect women and girls. We will achieve this by including girls in football matches and asking them to join in. Being open to playing in mixed teams. Passing the ball to girls and not underestimating them. Teacher, you can help us by encouraging the girls to try playing football at break and lunch time.

The event then focused on building upon this respect for women footballers to encourage respect for women and girls in schools and communities, and inviting the young people to tackle harassment as No Barriers Champions. Harassment in schools is a pressing issue. 10% of harassment cases reported to the police involve girls under the age of 10. The impact such an event could also have on boys was highlighted by teachers:

We are experiencing levels of (sexual) harassment in our school that worry us terribly. We feel it is getting out of hand in our community and are shocked that primary school aged children (boys) are exposed to so much dangerous material in their lives now. We want to address it as much as we can.

Melissa Davies Oliveck, headteacher of Starks Field Primary School, Enfield, spoke about how her school had recently addressed an issue with harassment, and assured the teachers present that there are lots of positive steps they can take if they have a harassment incident at their school.

From talking to the girls, we found issues around inappropriate language, inappropriate touch and body shaming, and we immediately took action to address this… We all need to be aware that it can happen in this school, it can happen anywhere.

By including the boys in the event and in the creation of the Charter, they became an active part of the solution, taking positive action and steps towards a fairer environment in their school, playground and community. A boy from Holmleigh Primary School, Hackney, shared this part of their Charter:

We make a commitment to respect women and girls. We will achieve this by not objectifying them, by treating them as equals, and by including them in games and activities. We will speak out and seek help from our responsible adults.  


Millfields Community School, Newton Class’s Charter

The schools now have until 27 July to embed their Charters into their schools, communities and online. Plans for sharing these Charters include writing to MP’s, sharing their Charter with parents, and hosting a mixed gender football tournament. One school who takes their Charter further will win a bursary to take their class to a women’s football match. Come back soon to read about the winning school.

If you would be interested in a No Barriers style event on an issue that is important to you, please get in touch with Emily Hadwen at