Innovative Practice - Gloves off

17th August 2012 at 01:00
A gym that produced some of Britain's top boxers now runs an academy with an impressive graduation tally

The background

The Peacock Gym in Newham is known among London's East Enders as the gym that produced some of the country's most famous boxers, from Frank Bruno to Lennox Lewis.

In 2008, the family-run charity founded an innovative academy programme for young people aged 14-19, which allows students time away from school to take vocational qualifications.

Co-founder and current head of the programme Glyn Barlow says the project was designed to encourage youth enterprise and work opportunities through sport and healthy living.

"You're lucky to get two hours a week of exercise at a mainstream school now, but we offer at least two hours each day and everybody gets a free, healthy lunch," he says.

Barlow first visited the Peacock Gym with a group of pupils from the special school he was working at as a senior teacher, and was amazed by the enthusiasm shown by the students.

The emphasis on physical fitness, he says, helps students to combat depression and mental health issues, as well as promoting self-discipline. Boxing, especially, helps to vent aggression and gives students the confidence to walk away from conflict.

The academy, which started with no funding and only six students, now works with 150 young people each week, on both a full- and part-time basis.

The project

The academy provides an alternative to pupil referral units and mainstream schooling and is staffed by a team of volunteer retired teachers and sports and vocational professionals.

It offers BTEC, NVQ and City and Guilds accreditations in subjects including sport, hair and beauty, fashion, horticulture, technology, construction, cycle mechanics and - appropriately - Amateur Boxing Association boxing, taught by a former professional fighter.

The focus of the academy is entrepreneurial skills and employability. "We give students the opportunity to bid for contracts around the academy," says Barlow. "The students bid for a janitorial contract and now they clean the academy and get paid a professional rate to do it."

Barlow describes the project as an "East End community looking after its own". He says: "There's a magic to this place. There are lots of old photographs on the walls and you can feel a real sense of community when you come in."

All the students are given membership of the gym and Barlow boasts of very low levels of vandalism and bad behaviour.

Tips from the scheme

The students are treated like adults and there is very low security. "The buzzers and gates you get at normal schools make them feel like prisons," says Barlow.

There are no bells to signal the end of a lesson. "We do project work and we finish when we finish."

The gym exposes students to strong male role models. "We have a lot of male role models here, both white and black - something that is sadly often lacking in secondary schools."

Evidence that it works?

The academy has seen 80 per cent of its students progress to education, employment or training. It has 82 per cent attendance and its 53 Year 11 students were awarded 99 national accreditations at levels 1 and 2 in 2010-11. With Newham's poor rate of youth unemployment, low level of skills and high levels of deprivation, this is impressive. More importantly, Barlow says, "students say they feel very safe here".

The academy was nominated for outstanding sporting initiative or partnership in the 2012 TES Schools Awards.

THE PROJECT

Approach: A school that grew out of a boxing gym

Started: 2008

Leader: Glyn Barlow

THE SCHOOL

Name: The Peacock Academy

Location: Newham, east London

Pupils: 150 students attend from a range of surrounding state schools

Age range: 14-19.

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