Partners in crime go back to school

Ian and Dave have been in prison for drugs and robbery. Just the right people to sort out problem pupils.

Ian Calder has returned to the school he walked out of 10 years ago. He was 13 when he sauntered through the gates of Burnage Lower School in Manchester, turning his back on education. He had no qualifications and, though he didn't realise it at the time, very little future.

Ian had long run more than a little wild; kicking his heels on the street he was soon drawn into the local drugs and gang scene. When events caught up with him they landed him behind bars for six years as he served sentences for a fistful of drugs and robbery charges.

Today, looking out into a classroom of pupils aged between 12 and 14, Ian sees himself - "and then some". These are some of the school's most persistently disruptive under-achievers. They've been referred to Ian's weekly hour-long session in the hope that they can be put back on the straight and narrow. One boy actually referred himself.

Ian talks to the pupils candidly about his time in prison, his catalogue of scrapes on the street, his failings. But Ian is not simply here to influence by deterrent, his role is a far more complex one - part mentor, part counsellor, sometime older brother, father figure even.

In Manchester, expulsions cost the city millions of pounds, leading to record levels of juvenile crime. Across the country, permanent exclusions leapt from 2,910 in 1990/91 to just over 12,000 five years later. Exclusions cost the education, health and social services pounds 81m in 1997. If, on the other hand, those pupils had managed to stay in full-time schooling, it would have cost only pounds 34m.

There are other worrying statistics: Afro-Caribbean boys are five times more likely to be expelled than white boys. And of those pupils who are permanently excluded from schooling, fewer than one in six return to full- time education.

Ian regards what he does as a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week calling, even though there is only funding to employ him part-time. His partner, Dave Gregory, was supposed to be taking this session with him, but he's been held up at another school. He was called in to talk to a girl who had run away from home, then to another school to talk to a girl who was depressed about her bed-ridden mother, and to another to deal with two girls who had had a fight over a boy.

Ian and Dave's mobiles are constantly chirping. On a Sunday morning last month, they spent five hours at a local police station with a mother who had reached the end of her tether with her 14-year-old son. "Trouble don't keep office hours," says Ian. Between them they cover 11 Manchester schools. However, despite the appointment of two new part-time female mentors, the service is stretched to the limit.

Although there are no books or pens on the desks in front of Ian's charges, this session is far from an easy option for pupils who take it. Ian is an extremely hard task-master, who takes no nonsense. He refuses to let them imagine themselves as victims of circumstance. Ranging around the front of the class, he harangues the boys to stop mumbling, to sit up, put their shoulders back and to speak clearly, with pride and purpose. Their back-chat, truancy and poor performance is nobody's fault but their own, he tells them. This time at school is more valuable than they could ever realise. He, too, thought he would be 13 forever.

It's a tough, cold world out there. "Yous ain't all that," he says. "You don't know nowt, so don't be going on with yourself like you the man. Another kid was drilled [shot] last weekend. He was your cousin wasn't he?" Ian nods at a boy in the second row. "Yous are the future. Which of yous is going to stop the killing? Which of yous is going change the world? You gotta believe in yourself."

The pupils hang on his every word, their respect self-evident. They discuss their hopes, dreams and ambitions. Ian calls one boy out to the front so they can all share in his recent success at a local gymnastics competition. Ian has him stand on his hands against the wall and do press-ups. "Yous support each other in the foolishness that you're in, so why not the good?" he reasons with them.

Later, he has another boy stand on the teacher's desk so the others can "build him up". They're no longer slouching in their chairs, shoulders defensively hunched, eyes cast down. "They're angry because they've got nobody to speak to about their fears," reckons Dave.

"They bring that anger into school and direct it at the nearest figure of authority, the teacher. School stops being a place of learning and becomes a battleground for recognition.

"They throw up this mask, but it just hides a lot of hurt," Dave says of the boys' street-style posturing. "They reckon they the man when they slouch at the back of class, sniggering and whispering. They can't put up their hand and say that they don't understand, just like they can't talk about their emotions."

Their emotional immaturity and hostility reaches far beyond the classroom, he says: "They're going to have relationships with women and they're not going to be able to express their emotions. Then they're going to have children and pass all their problems onto their kids, and the viciousness will start all over."

Inspired by a project at North London College, mentoring was adopted at City College, Manchester, in 1991. Although it was originally devised for pupils with problems adjusting to further education, there was a demand from local schools.

Three years ago, the mentors were drafted in to Oakwood High School to deal with growing friction between rival gangs. The changes worked: playground tensions were quickly relieved and a perceptible change in classroom atmosphere became apparent. The year before, there had been seven expulsions. After the mentors arrived, there was one.

Jim Reddy, the head of year nine - the 13- and 14-year-olds - at Burnage Lower, believes that the boys whom he has referred to the mentors have calmed down considerably. "They are far from angelic, but now there are fewer problems with negative, confrontational relationships with teachers, and the incidents of violence and truancy have become less severe. Indirectly, it has been positive for the whole school."

Calling in the mentors is not an easy decision for any school to make. Ian and Dave are hardly typical role models. Run a police check and you'll turn up more than just a few parking tickets (Dave has also served time for drugs and robbery charges).

However, the pupils can relate to them. They were born and bred in the immediate community and are street-wise in their dress-sense and vocabulary. They understand, first hand, the pressures on teenagers in the inner city. They bridge the gulf between teacher and pupil, pupil and parent, and parent and school. They also bridge the gulf between trendy politically correct theory and grass-roots reality. While the funding of the service depends on them mentoring Afro-Caribbean boys, they don't hesitate to help any child in trouble: Ian's class, for example, included three white boys, two Asian lads and several of mixed race.

"The child don't see no colour," says Ian. "They're in multi-cultural classes, getting on with each other. This is about determination, devotion and the love within themselves; them things don't have colour."

Ian and Dave are equally dismissive of adopting an American approach to mentoring in Britain. Last week there was a conference in Manchester entitled "Mentoring: transatlantic problems, universal solutions".

Several sociologists flew in from America to give keynote speeches. None of the Manchester-based mentors were invited to attend the conference, let alone speak. "As long as the authorities continue to look to America for answers, they'll be trying to force square pegs into round holes," reckons Dave.

"We've imported enough troubles from America, now we have to start mending them," he adds. "I wouldn't dare to go to America and tell them how to clean up their backyard."

Back at Burnage Lower School, when the bell rings, Ian's charges do not rush for the door, rather they wait (relatively) patiently while he runs through their reports, demanding that they account for their actions in minute detail.

Then the room must be tidied so that it is left just as it was when they arrived. Finally, the boys are allowed to throw up the hoods of their jackets and disperse in a blaze of loud puffers and trainers.

Ian pulls one pupil to the side to pick him up on a comment that he had made earlier. The boy had said that Ian was the only teacher he could be bothered to listen to.

Ian quietly reminds the boy that he's not a teacher, then he demands to know why, if the boy can relax during his sessions, he hasn't learnt how to pay attention during classes as well. The boy looks puzzled. Ian's not exactly sure whether he gets it, but he intends to keep hammering the message home until he does.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Reach Volunteering: Would you like to volunteer your expertise as Chair of Governors for Livability?

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

Ashdown Group: Payroll Administrator - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + substantial benefits: Ashdown Group: Finance Admin...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?