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ENGAGING
ESSEX

Alternative learning helps to turn young lives around

A pilot programme to tackle violence and vulnerability has seen an increase in behaviour and attendance and a reduction in exclusions and negative incidents in a Southend school.

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council is working with a school in the borough by providing alternative learning opportunities and diversionary activities to turn around the lives of those with challenging backgrounds.

The project, launched during the summer, has already seen –

  • Improved communication skills
  • Greater engagement in school activities
  • Improved behaviour in and out of the classroom
  • Improved peer relations
  • Improved self-control and strategies for managing anger and emotional issues
  • A willingness to challenge themselves and try new activities
  • The ability to transfer new skills to different areas of their lives

During the period the programme has been running attendance has increased from 57.2% to 70.4% meaning many more children are feeling more incentivised to come to school. Behaviour has also improved significantly and exclusions have dropped by over 80%.

The work received £30,000 funding as part of the Violence and Vulnerability Programme established by Roger Hirst, the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) and partners across Essex. The programme funds projects to reduce the risk of young and vulnerable people being groomed into a life of crime and help those affected by gangs to take the steps to leave.

The money has been invested in a counsellor to work with the children – aged eight to 16 – as well as a range of intervention activities, including street basketball, boxing, kickboxing, horse riding, dance and gym fitness. The programme of activities was developed in collaboration with the children and used sports at ways to build academic and emotional skills, build team work and problem solving as well as fostering a desire to learn.

Councillor Anne Jones, cabinet member for children and learning at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, said: “This programme is being used as a way of encouraging and rewarding good attendance and behaviour. We also aim to reduce exclusions, to get pupils engaged with school and involved in positive activities they can carry on outside of school hours, many of which also improve physical fitness. This funding is enabling us to offer pupils a more rounded educational experience and we are really pleased with the children’s response and the enthusiasm they have shown.”

Alex Bridge, Service Manager for the Adolescent Intervention and Prevention Team said: “It has been really helpful working with the PFCC and the Violence and Vulnerability team in getting this programme up and running. Their support has ensured the project has reached those who need it the most.

“Given the strong improvements in school attendance in a very short space of time, we aim to give the project some longevity and make it sustainable.”

One student, aged 16 and in Year 11, said: “Being at horse riding has given me space and time to think and deal with my emotions much better. I feel calmer being around the horses and have enjoyed being able to be around new people and learn new things. Horse riding is the only reason I have been coming into school, I don’t feel I have anything else to look forward to other than this.”

The school’s behaviour and enrichment lead said: “It has been wonderful to see the pupils in action, smiling and talking positively about their learning. It has helped them to develop their confidence and self-worth and has provided them with success and satisfaction in learning new skills, being sociable and interested in a number of leisure activities.

“For our community, it has provided an additional layer of enrichment and improved relationships between pupils and staff. It has provided diversion for pupils away from negative mindsets and behaviours and enabled them to look at leisure time and activities differently and positively.”

A second school has joined the project.

Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said: “Tackling serious violence and protecting young and vulnerable people are both key priorities in my Police and Crime Plan. We are working hard in Essex to tackle violence in our communities and are well ahead of other areas of the country. We have already created a Violence and Vulnerability Unit, have invested in a range of activities for young people at risk and strengthened our enforcement activities.  We are investing in activities and interventions that stop the vulnerable being drawn into a life of crime and help those already involved to exit gangs safely.”

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