Six out of 10 young people who are in danger of opting out of school are showing significantly improved behaviour and confidence thanks to Living For Sport, a school sports initiative now in its third year. The figure comes from a research team at the Institute of Youth Sport at Loughborough University which published its findings earlier this month (see box).
LFS is a project to motivate young people through sport, run by the Youth Sport Trust and BSkyB. It aims to introduce pupils to new sporting experiences to re-engage them with school life. The scheme has now reached more than 300 secondary schools and 4,500 young people across the UK.
One school participating this year is the William Parker Sports College in Hastings. Headteacher Derek Greenup says: "I have been in sports colleges for 10 years and this scheme is easily the best. It brings about dramatic changes in attitude and behaviour through sport."
The school takes boys from many of the town's most deprived areas, and has been participating in the scheme for the past two years. LFS provides comprehensive support, including staff training, resources, funding for activities and access to a prestigious awards programme. Schools also host visits from world-class retiring athletes, chosen as good role models.
William Parker welcomed Steve Harris, the canoe double world champion.
Each Thursday for six weeks, 12 boys from Years 8 and 9 are taken out of afternoon lessons to take part in the school's LFS programme. "It's no soft touch, they really have to earn what they achieve," says Ian Gillespie, LFS lead teacher and assistant headteacher. They are a lively bunch of pupils who were selected primarily for behavioural reasons, says Ian, and were in need of support and confidence boosting.
In the second session, the boys played a version of soccer in which the rules had to be negotiated and communicated as the match progressed. "It's all about communicating and learning to listen to each other," says Simon Casebourne, head of Year 9. Every few minutes, the boys would take time out and discuss how to play the game better and come to a team consensus on how to proceed. The game was followed by team-building sessions: they formed two teams to build the highest paper tower or erect a tent while blindfolded. While enjoying the tasks set, many of the boys clearly gained a lot of self-confidence.
Activities are supported by time-out discussions with Ian and other support staff. The boys are asked to reflect on what they have learnt and the importance of good communications, mutual respect and teamwork. Reward is a key part of the programme. The boys earn merit points for progress and teamwork. These points mean prizes: everything from a BSkyB bag (much coveted) to a free session at a tenpin bowling club. In their first week they had an exciting skateboard session as well as a motivational talk from Steve Harris.
Ian says: "To get the bigger prizes, the boys know that they have to work as a team. If one person lets them down, they don't succeed."
So far, results at William Parker are encouraging. Some of the boys certainly think so. "I really enjoyed the first session and meeting Steve Harris," says Tony Bonner of Year 9. Ashley McCann, also in Year 8, is eloquent in his enthusiasm for the scheme: "It's really improving my behaviour. I have to work extra hard to get the merits. I find it really enjoyable. It's also helping me talk to my teachers when I get back into class."
Watching the work being done with the pupils, it is clear they are getting a lot out of the experience. Ian says: "Some of last year's boys are mentors to this year's group. And many of the boys are really gaining in confidence, having more respect for themselves and others."
He is first to admit that schemes like these offer few panaceas for poor behaviour and achievement but, as he says: "On some boys, it has had a really dramatic effect, while others need continuing support."
Hounslow Manor, a mixed secondary in Hounslow, Middlesex, has also been in the scheme for two years. Pupils are selected for low self-esteem and self-confidence. This year, six boys and five girls aged 12 are taking part and, says their teacher Jenny Cornelius, the results are "awesome - they are growing in stature and confidence". She describes how pupils involved in the project two years ago will still stop her if she is carrying something heavy and offer to help. As they see themselves succeeding in a small group, this spills into other areas.
St John Bosco Art College has been participating since the scheme started.
The programme initially involved going to an outdoor pursuit centre and working on communication, team-building and leadership activities. Then, for one afternoon a week, the students acted as PE assistants, working on the rock-climbing wall with primary children. The scheme culminated with participants organising a sporting day for primary children and acting as co-ordinating assistants in an orienteering day. In the second year, girls in the sixth form who had taken part the year before acted as mentors to the new Year 10 group. Many students were inspired to see girls they had previously perceived as "naughty" now taking on a leadership role.
Students taking part found the scheme valuable. One pupil, who had been close to permanent exclusion, was engaged by the scheme and completed a GCSE in PE in one year, gaining a B grade.
Sue Hussey, the teacher leading the scheme, says: "Each year we have run the scheme it has got better, but it is also very different each time. It is now embedded in our programme of work: Living For Sport will always be part of our work here, as long as we have pupils in need of it. One pupil barely spoke before the scheme started. She is taking part in activities that take a lot of bottle for her to do, because she is shy and has been withdrawn. Our success with her is that she is taking part, and now acknowledges staff, and is even smiling."
* www.sky.comlfs www.youthsportstrust.org
Main findings of the report by the Institute of Youth Sport: l65 per cent of students showed increased self confidence; l66 per cent showed improved behaviour during the project; l78 per cent of teachers felt that the project had benefited their students.