How one college is winning the battle for hearts and minds

MPCT, which was set up by a former Marine, is turning school-leavers into disciplined military professionals

Sarah Simon

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At 16 years old, Huw Lewis wanted to join the Royal Marines. Focused on his mission, he set off from his parents’ house in North Wales for his army medical examination in Liverpool. Within 30 seconds of meeting the doctor, his dream was over, his application rejected because he had hay fever.

Unshaken, he got on the bus back home, taking a detour to the army careers office in Wrexham, where he applied again. This time he wasn’t quite so honest about his allergy on the medical form and was accepted straightaway.

But there was one more problem. At 16, he needed parental consent and his parents were not in favour of his military ambitions. He used the opportunity of his parents’ being on holiday abroad, forged his father’s signature and by the time his parents got home, their son was a soldier.

Lewis quickly excelled in the army and, 10 years later, having passed the Royal Marines commandos course, he was working in the recruitment office. Compelled by the many young people he encountered there who had great potential but wouldn’t be accepted at that point, and who might lack the resilience he’d had to keep trying, he submitted a proposal to set up a military preparation programme.

His first classroom experience, a maths session with 33 students, was, by his own admission, a disaster. Rethinking his approach, he took inspiration from army training and combined mathematics principals with physical activity outside.

Lewis explains: “They were running around all over the place and they loved it. We got through twice the learning in half the time without any pushback. I thought, ‘We’ve got something here.’”

Rascal to regimentals

Though he was only halfway through his military career, he was inspired by working with young people, so decided to leave and start his own training organisation. He borrowed money, rented buildings, then hired and trained staff, in the early days doing everything from the cleaning to the accounts himself.

Since its formation in 1999, his organisation – known as the Motivational Preparation College for Training (MPCT) – has expanded to 27 locations in England and Wales, having trained many thousands of young people. It’s free to attend, there are no qualification entry requirements and students can begin their course at any time of the year.

Learners from the college have a 90 per cent success rate at military assessment centres, and 94 per cent success at phase 1 British army training. As well as providing military training for 16- to 19-year-olds, the MPCT runs sports academies and school programmes for 14- to 16-year-olds. Earlier this year, MPCT was named Training Provider of the Year at the Tes FE Awards 2017.

Anyone visiting MPCT Birmingham would be bowled over by the poise and confidence of the 16- and 17-year-old students they meet, many of whom had been self-confessed “rascals” at school. Dressed in pristine uniforms, a group perform a highly professional scripted presentation followed by a poetry recital. In the gym, a different, larger group carry out a series of choreographed military drills and physical training displays.

Their expertise is impressive (and slightly intimidating). The speedy transformation of young learners from school-leavers into disciplined future military professionals leaves one question: how does MPCT do it?

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands, and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

This is an edited version of an article in the 16 June edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. TES magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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