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 'Broken Britain: The fight to save our classrooms'

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Firebird

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Join date : 2009-05-07
Age : 36
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PostSubject: 'Broken Britain: The fight to save our classrooms'   Sun 09 Aug 2009, 11:19 am

Broken Britain: The fight to save our classrooms


Written by Paul Kendall. Published on the 8th of August, 2009

Source : The Telegraph
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/5995815/Broken-Britain-The-fight-to-save-our-classrooms.html

The number of pupils excluded from school is rising. In the latest in our series on fixing Broken Britain, Paul Kendall visits an academy tackling some of the toughest troublemakers - with boxing skills.


Chavez Campbell skips around the ring, shoulders hunched, long arms bent up towards his head. Stepping forward, his opponent feints to the left, then fires a combination of hooks and upper cuts. Phumpf, phumpf ! They slam into Chavez's temple.

"Long range, long range. Move him away, move him away," shouts his coach from the safe side of the ropes. Chavez narrows his eyes and bends his head to the task. This time he stays back, keeping the other boxer at arm's length. At 16, Chavez is already 6ft 2in. He looks too skinny to be a fighter, but what he lacks in muscle he makes up for in aggression, technique and bloody intent. Thump ! He lands a solid jab. Then another. And then an upper cut, first left then right.

"That's it! Good!" shouts the coach. "Move, move."

When it comes to boxing, Chavez is a fast learner. But it's a different story in the classroom. At 12, he was expelled from school and sent to a Pupil Referral Unit, an education centre for children who cannot be controlled by mainstream schools. But PRUs are no more than holding-pens for our most unsettled children, and often they are not even that. Chavez was so disruptive in class and so violent towards his fellow pupils that he had to leave.

In many parts of the country, that would have been that. Deemed "unteachable", his school career would have been at an end and he would have begun his "adult" life with no qualifications and the reading age of a 10-year-old. Depressingly, one in 10 students entitled to free school meals currently leaves school in this way.

Figures published last week also show that two in every five children leave primary school without reaching the required level in English and maths. And all this, despite Labour pumping billions of extra pounds into the education system (investment rose from £29.7 billion in 1997-98 to £60.8 billion in 2006-07) and David Blunkett, then the Education Secretary, instigating daily literacy and numeracy lessons.

Boys with Chavez's sort of profile, perhaps no more than 20,000 across Britain, are responsible for the vast majority of anti-social behaviour – muggings, burglaries and stabbings – and research shows that almost all children involved in gangs have been excluded from mainstream schooling.

Fortunately for Chavez, another door opened for him. At the same time that he was causing mayhem in school, a project was starting in Tottenham, north London, that aimed to turn around the lives of the most disadvantaged and hard-to-reach youngsters. It was called the London Boxing Academy, and Chavez was its first pupil.

On a bright morning its co-founder Simon Marcus shows me around. "We're trying to reverse brainwashing here," he tells me as we stand in the sky-blue common room, next to a pool table and a table football game. "These kids think they're victims, they can't do anything, the world's against them, they deserve something. You'll destroy anyone if you teach that to them from the age of zero.

"We're saying you can achieve whatever you want, your horizons are as broad as anyone's, but you have to live by certain values – responsibility, respect, discipline, a work ethic – and sacrifice for the future. You have to think long-term, not short-term, be a leader not a follower."

The academy teaches them that, primarily, through boxing. There are lessons as well, but each one of the 36 pupils (including three girls) does up to four hours of boxing training per week. There is no contact boxing during school hours (anyone who wants to fight properly does so in their spare time through the police boxing club at the academy's gym), but they all work with punch bags and mitts, learn technique and keep fit through skipping and running.

Marcus, a former boxer himself is evangelical about the sport's benefits. "Boxing is 20 to 30 per cent of what we do. As soon as those kids come through that door they are not top dog, they are not the bully, and that is a lot of our job done.

"They are subliminally accepting authority, and that opens up a world of opportunity for them because they can accept an order in life. They can accept boundaries, discipline, and from that comes learning and a future. In fact, that is a form of love. All these people who talk about children's rights, no one talks about the right of a child to receive authority and that's something that's vital. The word 'no' has disappeared from bringing up children."

There is no doubt in my mind that Marcus does indeed love these children. Every time a pupil passes us, he makes a conscious effort to catch their eye and greet them by name: "All right, Ashley", "You OK, Walker?", "Hello, Rasheda."

And when he spots someone breaking the rules, his response suggests a calm authority. The pupils still have a certain swagger – a third of them have been permanently excluded from school and many have served time in youth offender institutions for violent crime – but they listen to him and keep their tempers in check.

"These kids eating fried chicken for their lunch, they just drop things," he says after speaking to a boy who has just tossed a burger carton on to the floor. "They have absolutely no awareness that they should pick things up. If you say, 'Oi! Pick it up', there will be trouble. Whereas if you say, 'Now, you know you shouldn't drop things on the floor; you know you should pick it up', nine times out of 10 they'll do it."

At mainstream schools, where teachers are under so much pressure, this approach is much more difficult.

"I feel sorry for teachers in mainstream schools," says Marcus. "They're just going to go, 'Hey! Pick it up', and then there could be a problem" – he means verbal abuse at the very least, possibly violence – "and the kid might end up being kicked out of school. So, it's very systemic. The system isn't geared to work with these kids who have so many problems on so many levels."

In the school year 2006-07, 65,390 children were excluded, the vast majority on a temporary basis. Almost half of these were barred for violent, threatening or aggressive behaviour. A survey, published in 2008, said 29 per cent of teachers had been punched, kicked or bitten by pupils.

Ofsted, the school inspection service, insists pupil behaviour is satisfactory in 94 per cent of schools, but Terry Haydn, a former comprehensive teacher who now studies classroom disruption at East Anglia university, says that is not his experience.

"Deficits in classroom climate are more widespread than Ofsted assumes. Quite a lot of kids simply don't want to be in school and don't want to learn. Even very good and experienced teachers have said to me, 'I struggle.' "

The right of the majority of pupils to get on with their lessons should be paramount, but Haydn says that too often violent and difficult troublemakers are allowed back into the classroom. This is not helped by rules that allow pupils to appeal against permanent exclusions. Of the 8,680 pupils who were permanently excluded in 2007, about 970 appealed and 250 were successful, a rise of 20 per cent in 10 years.

Twelve years ago, Labour came to power promising to champion children from the poorest sections of society. It acknowledged that the problems started in infancy, when children develop both emotionally and psychologically and learn basic relationship skills. The Government promised nursery education for all three- and four-year-olds and established the Sure Start programme to provide education and childcare to pre-school children from poor families.

A recent Ofsted report found that Sure Start centres are having a positive impact on the life chances of children and providing much-needed support to parents. But Sure Start has strayed from its initial goals and become much more a part of the Government's drive to get parents back to work.

"It predominantly delivers child care now," says Charlotte Pickles, a senior policy adviser at the think tank, the Centre for Social Justice. "That early-years development is no longer the priority, and many parents are not being taught parenting skills. So, by the time they go on to a primary school, these children don't have the social ability to engage with their peers.

"They're likely to be behind other children in educational terms, and, especially if they're at a failing school, they're then likely to fall even further behind. By the time they turn up at secondary school, they have little hope of catching up with their contemporaries who have had that investment and support."



Of course, the failure of early-years education doesn't mean primary and secondary schools and other educationists shouldn't shoulder much of the blame for the violent children on our streets.

For Simon Marcus, the situation is critical. "I feel like I'm in a living nightmare," he says. "Everywhere I look, I see catastrophically bad judgment from people who have been to Oxford and Cambridge who should know better.

"We know what works. Kids need discipline, they need boundaries, they need love, they need stability. They don't need a bunch of crazy liberal experiments where they are told, 'Do what you want, make your own decisions; male role models aren't that important; there is no such thing as right and wrong; it's everybody else's fault.'

"A quarter of a million kids a year carry knives. I speak to idiots who say it's no different from the mods and rockers or punks. No! It is. You are dealing with people – the equality brigade – for whom politics has become a religion.

"Many of them are highly motivated individuals who do a lot of good work in poor areas, but unless your larger framework acknowledges the basics – simple, self-evident truths – then these children, nine times out of 10, are not going to turn out very well."

Marcus's hard-line approach has transformed the prospects of Chavez Campbell. He is waiting for the results of seven GCSEs, he has a place in college, and he doesn't get into trouble any more.

"Boxing just agreed with me," he says. "My ambition is to box for England. Then I want to go to the Olympics, and, after the Olympics, I want to go pro." He grins. "I'm serious. I've got a future now."
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