Boxing academy gives excluded pupils a chance to channel their anger

 

Terry had been excluded from two mainstream schools by the age of 11. He had even been forced to leave two units for excluded youngsters after bringing a knife on to the premises. His last chance was the Boxing Academy – an innovative project for young people in Hackney and Haringey, north London – which has already secured the attention of Government advisers as they strive to offer a better chance of permanent education for youngsters who would otherwise be prey to gang culture on the streets.

At first, the academy insisted on searching Terry to make sure he had no weapons on him while he was at the academy. Gradually, he settled in and is now seen by staff as a pupil with a much brighter future, capable of getting an A* in his maths GCSE, which could be the gateway to a college place or apprenticeship.

The Boxing Academy, which has two sites – one in each of the boroughs, offers full-time places to about 40 pupils. The schools it works with make assessments of those young people who will not cope in a mainstream school environment and pay the academy, which is run by a charity, to take them on board.

It is the pioneer for an experiment launched this September whereby a number of schools throughout the country have taken responsibility for providing education for the pupils they have excluded.

Terry says of the Academy: "I got kicked out of my last school. I really wanted to come here, though, I heard about it in June. I used to have an anger problem and I don't think I would have got on in a mainstream school."

At the Boxing Academy, if one of the pupils is in danger of losing control, they can be sent to the gym where they can spar or work out on the equipment and get rid of their aggression in a more constructive way. Discipline is strict. If anyone is late for school they can be made to do 100 sit-ups as a punishment. The teenagers – all those at the academy are in their last three years of compulsory schooling – do not seem to question the discipline. Some appear to respect it as something that was missing from their earlier lives at school.

Hassan, another 15-year-old at the Academy,says: "I used to get distracted at mainstream school. I started fights and got into trouble. Here, if you do something, you can't get away with it. It is highly disciplined but at the same time the teachers make it fun to learn. What I would do in a mainstream school is fight, but here, there is no need to fight because they are your friends. You can go down to the gym and do some sparring if you're angry. In mainstream school I wouldn't get as much attention as I get here. You get more support but you also get more work to do."

A typical week at the school will include boxing sessions as well as maths, English and ICT, with most of the pupils studying for GCSEs. Citizenship has just been added to the curriculum.

The pupils are divided into pods of six each. Their "pod" leader (or teacher) stays with them for the three years they are at the school. The relationship is more that that of a teacher and a pupil. The staff are all trained youth workers and if a pupil does not turn up they will go round to their home and drag them out of bed if necessary.

Kiros Hetep, one of the "pod" leaders, says: "It is not just exclusively boys here. There are a couple of girls, too." Hetep, who had been involved with boxing for several years before taking up his post with the academy. was doing a telesales job when he heard about the job at the Academy. "It was repetitive - saying the same thing time and again day after day," he says, "but here you are involved with helping these kids succeed in life. We do the boxing because we can channel the aggression they have. We're not going to give up on them. They know that and we have a good rapport. They just cannot be in a class where there are 30 kids. They need a bit more attention that than that and we can provide more advice to them than a mainstream school."

At the helm is head teacher Anna Cain, whose involvement with the academy stems from when her own son was excluded from school. As a result of the time she had to spend fighting her son's corner, she lost her own full-time job as a researcher. However, she believes that often it is not the answer to get a pupil reinstated into their mainstream school. "You are just getting them put back into an environment where they have failed," she says.

Many parents too, would not have the understanding to find their way round the appeals system, which can take weeks to be resolved. "Those are weeks when they are kicking their heels at home," she says. They will be out on the streets where they could fall prey to drugs or gang culture.

She is not qualified as a teacher but says: "My experience as a mother whose son was excluded is probably better training for what I do now. For some of the kids here, this will be the first time they've ever had a positive male role model in their lives, a role model who will get them in on time and push them out of bed if they need to. These are kids, some of whom would have thought nothing about throwing furniture across the room or swearing at a teacher."

However, many are shocked when they are finally excluded from school, "Even the toughest youngsters are devastated," she says. "They never thought it would happen to them. As soon as they arrive here, though, it all stops. They behave and I am sure it is because they know they can't get away with it. We talk to them here more on a level that they understand. They are used to getting their own way, but discipline is strict here. I can't imagine how mainstream schools cope and I can absolutely understand how they want these youngsters out."

Anna has always been a boxing fan. Indeed, it was boxing that helped turn around her own son's life as he joined the Academy after his exclusion. "It wasn't news for me that it was a tool for disaffected young people," she says. She is well aware of the pressure and influences that her charges face in the world outside the school. "Some of these kids are involved with people who are involved in very nasty things," she says.

The teachers at the school are trained in restraint techniques, but often the answer to any show of aggression is just to go downstairs and "punch the bag".

Anna Cain is quite critical of the provision set aside for excluded youngsters – a feeling that would be shared in ministerial circles, which is why Charlie Taylor, the Government's senior adviser on discipline, has visited the Academy. Too often, she argues, provision consists of time spent in a pupil referral unit, where many of the youngsters fail to attend. In those cases, they are likely to fall prey to those "nasty things" that happen in the streets.

Providing them with a full-time alternative to mainstream schooling can work, though. Of the pupils that left the Boxing Academy this summer, all but one have go on to study at a further education college and the one has taken up an apprenticeship. It is not a bad record at a time of record levels of youth unemployment when you consider the Academy serves one of the most deprived areas of the country.

Taylor is impressed by what he has seen. "The Boxing Academy is turning around the lives of children with serious behaviour problems, who have often been excluded from mainstream education," he says. "They have mixed the discipline and culture of boxing with a rigorous approach to learning and made it a highly successful school. I'm impressed by the work they do and the results they get – every one of their students this year is now in college building on the skills they will need for later life. I'm keen that other schools in similar challenging areas can learn from the principles that the Academy instil."

Many of the youngsters come back to the Academy after leaving. "They say: 'College is really hard – I can't believe how awful I was while I was here because all you did was try and help me'," Anna says.

"Most of them were really difficult when they came here. It's not a job for the faint-hearted. They learn to deal with any anger or emotions they have in a constructive way. You have to be extremely careful with some of the kids. They are the ones that most people don't want. We don't exclude them from the Boxing Academy. We don't give up on them."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Early Years Teachers Required

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Early Years Teachers ...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Qualified Early Years Teachers Required

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualifed Early Years ...

Do you want to work in Education?

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energetic gradu...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride