This blog is all that remains from the former website which was closed after 8 years of providing a 'wiki' of urban street gangs in London.

An unfinished history of modern urban street gangs in London has been used to replace some of the content of the original site, beginning here

Friday, 23 March 2012

Teenagers who punch their way out of a corner

i-Independent Print Ltd

March 23, 2012

First Edition

Peter Popham and Richard Garner

Violent and disruptive teenagers excluded from their school classes should be dispatched to a new wave of alternative education boot camps to save them from gang life, the Education Secretary said last night.

Michael Gove praised a pioneering boxing academy in a London borough badly hit by the August riots as a "shining example" of how to transform the lives of teenagers who would otherwise fall into gang life.

The Hackney Boxing Academy, which is part-sponsored by charitable donations to Sport Relief, acts as a last resort for pupils who would otherwise be permanently excluded from schools because of their behaviour. It has been dubbed "boxing boot camp" and insists on rigorous discipline and adherence to simple rules.

Transgressions are punished by hundreds of press-ups. And the academy has remarkable success: more than 90 per cent of its pupils - who are mostly Afro-Caribbean teenage boys - graduate on to further education, training or employment.

"We need more schools like it to drive up the quality of academic standards of alternative education," Mr Gove said.

Charlie Taylor, the Government's behaviour tsar, also demanded the establishment of more schools like the Boxing Academy. "I think they're doing a terrific job," he said yesterday.

More than 37,000 schoolchildren in England and Wales are judged too difficult for their schools to handle and are dumped in Pupil Referral Units.

Take Adam, aged 15, who has been at the Hackney Boxing Academy a week after abusing teachers and punching a boy in the face. Facing permanent exclusion from classes Adam was sent to the academy as a last resort. "We take those who are absolutely not working out in the mainstream schools," says Anna Cain, 41, the Academy's founder and director. "They stay here from age 13 to 16 and they do extremely well with us."

Each of the 30 children at the academy is allocated to a "pod" with a pod leader - an experienced boxer - who stays with the group day in, day out, and is professionally trained. The Boxing Academy has been called "boot camp" and it's not far off: the keynotes are discipline, commitment, and strict, simple rules consistently applied.

"We go far further than any school in involving ourselves in their lives," says Ms Cain. "We are absolutely changing lives."

Back on track

Other youth crime projects helped by Sports Relief funding include the Track Academy in Brent, north London, run by Connie Henry, a former Commonwealth Games medal-winning triple jumper. She takes children at risk of exclusion and promotes athletic potential using professional coaches. One of her current charges, Confidence Lawson, a former gang member, is now ranked the 12th fastest runner in the UK. "After joining us he slowly learned discipline and his attitude began to change", Ms Henry says. Lawson has found a job and a university place, after Ms Henry threatened to bar him from training if he did not get his act together.

Another supported project is the Glasgow charity FARE - where violent crime has dropped almost 40 per cent in five years, partly due to the project.