Boxing is making a successful comeback to Britain's schools after a 40-year absence, according to a group of London headmasters who have reintroduced the sport to their school curriculum.
Teachers in Bromley, south London, said the boxing lessons, which have taken place over the past year, had motivated disaffected pupils to take an interest in their academic work. They were speaking at an event designed to showcase the positive impact of the sport on pupils, which was also attended by the former heavyweight champion Frank Bruno.
Boxing virtually died out in British schools during the 1960s, largely as a result of parental pressure. But during the 1950s, as many as 50,000 young boys took part in regular boxing events.
The reintroduction, in non-contact form, into south London PE lessons is the result of a collaboration between three former professional boxers and the Amateur Boxing Association of England.
In September 2005, Wayne Llewellyn, a former heavyweight and his close friend and former British champion Julius Francis, persuaded Brian Lloyd, the headmaster of Kelsey Park Sports College, to give them a three-month trial.
"I looked at my boy," said Mr Llewellyn, "and I thought to myself 'He needs a bit of focus' and then I realised that it would be a fantastic idea to take boxing back to schools and that is what I started to do. I just started calling up headmasters and tried to arrange meetings."
The subsequent lessons were such a success that the school formed an after-school boxing club, which is now affiliated to the ABA.
"Julius and Wayne started coming in and I could see the difference with the boys straight away," said Mr Lloyd. "It's not just the boxing - it's much more.
"They were mentoring the boys, reaching the boys, because of the respect that was there. I know they have kept some boys in education because of what they have done at the school," insisted Mr Lloyd.
Frank Bruno is equally enthusiastic. "In a boxing ring, there are no bullies and no victims," he said. "Boxing is all about respecting other people."
Yesterday, headmasters from other schools in south London watched an impressive exhibition of pad work and bag work from some of Mr Llewellyn's pupils. By the start of the next school year it is hoped there will be boxing on the curriculum in as many as 20 schools. The move to introduce boxing in a non-contact variation to schools could see the sport once again become one of the top 10 participation disciplines in the country. At present, it is outside the top 25 but the list includes walking and recreational swimming.
Although the collaboration has so far attracted widespread enthusiasm from local parents, a brain injury campaign group, Headway UK, condemned what it called the "astonishing" move to bring the sport back to schools.
Headway's chief executive, Peter McCabe, said: "Boxing can cause serious brain damage. It causes damage by causing the brain to knock against the skull, harming blood vessels, nerves and brain tissue. It is not something that is appropriate to be put on the school curriculum".
That, however, was not the consensus at Bromley's civic centre yesterday.
"The boxing has helped with my concentration, but more than that it has shown me that I have nothing to prove because in the gym everybody is equal and that's what I really like about it," said Harrison Lee, 17, a pupil at Kelsey Park in Bromley.
Rules of the ring
* The pupils skip and punch bags just like professional boxers
* The schools have rings that can be quickly erected. There will always be at least two or three ABA-trained coaches in attendance for sessions
* The highlight comes when the pupils put on their gloves and are taken for work on the 'pads'
* During the pad work, the pupils will be told what to do by the coach
* There will be no contact at any time during the sessions that take place in school time
* There will also be talks about diet and nutrition from the group of qualified boxing coachesReuse content