Last year we worked with a film company to help a group of challenging Year 9 boys who were at risk of permanent exclusion, funded by a pound;3,000 grant from the Arts Council and the Gulbenkian Foundation.
We thought that if we could get them engaged in making a film, we could help them understand that they have some control over their lives. We wanted to tackle a lot of areas, such as being able to work as a group, decision-making, perseverance and seeing something through to the end.
We met their parents and explained the project: they would be out of school one day a week for seven weeks in the summer term and four weeks in the autumn. We told the students that they had to maintain a high level of commitment to school during the week in order to get the day off filming.
Initially, it was a nightmare. The boys found the first few sessions difficult, and being in front of a camera threatening. The storyline was left open, so they could develop it themselves, and the group started as we thought they would, with machine-guns and violence. They struggled to work as a group, and to respect each other.
A film-making trust called Mirror Circus did the filming and editing; the students worked through a script and did the acting. We replaced one student who left because of his bad behaviour.
Gradually, the sessions got better. When we filmed the last ones in the autumn term, we realised that we had a group who could turn up not just on time, but early. They could work hard and concentrate for three or four hours, and could film some emotionally challenging stuff.
The finished film, called Welcome Home Dad, looked professional. We had envisaged showing it to the rest of the school and perhaps getting some publicity from the local press. But what the boys had produced was so highly personal that we realised anyone living in our area would recognise aspects of their own lives. The film addresses issues such as fathers going to prison, domestic violence and drug dealing.
We've shown it to the boys' parents, who were amazed by what their children had produced. And we've shown it to representatives of other agencies, such as the youth service and learning support centres, because it's a film that could be used in PSHE work with teenagers at risk of exclusion or non-attendance. The "actors" are still here, on a mainstream timetable doing GCSEs, apart from one who moved house.
I wouldn't say this project has turned around their behaviour - it probably came too late in their school lives to effect a road-to-Damascus conversion - but we have seen a huge development in their maturity and ability to cope. It's been a good project and they've learned a lot.
Catherine Lloyd is inclusion manager at Chesham Park community college, Buckinghamshire. She was talking to Martin Whittaker. Do you have a success story to share?Email: email@example.com