Welsh children at risk of exclusion from school get a second chance through rugby, thanks to the freemasons

Hundreds of schoolchildren at risk of being excluded from school are getting a chance to turn their lives around, thanks to a grant from the freemasons to the School of Hard Knocks (SOHK) charity.

The £92,418 grant comes jointly from freemasons in South Wales and Monmouthshire, and will allow the School of Hard Knocks to help as many as 450 Welsh children over the next three years.

The SOHK for Schools programme currently works with over 300 boys and girls in Wales, and over 600 across the UK. All of the students are at risk of being permanently excluded from school.

SOHK for Schools is a unique three-year intervention that uses rugby coaching and mentoring to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of the students most at risk of educational disengagement. This helps them improve their attendance and behaviour at school and avoid permanent exclusion.

Students on the programme receive an hour’s rugby coaching each week, followed by an hour of group work and mentoring. Sports sessions teach rugby skills, values and discipline. Crucially, however, the coaches also act as mentors, making time before and after the session to support participants. This can be in response to a request from the school; because a coach has noticed a problem; or, increasingly, because of a request from the student themselves. Coaches are then supported by behavioural specialists, who work closely with the children who need the most help.

Pupils in the programme have varying needs, including controlling anger or emotional regulation; a lack of confidence; difficulty expressing themselves appropriately; poor social support networks; a lack of interest in continuing education or employment; and a lack of effective parenting and parental role models.

Permanently-excluded children have very poor chances of gaining qualifications and becoming gainfully employed, with over 50 per cent going on to offend and less than 30 per cent achieving even one GCSE (DfE, 2003). The latest DfE figures (2017) suggest that only 1 per cent of excluded children gain five good GCSEs, and 39 per cent of those without GCSEs will in turn become NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training). A 2017 Institute for Public Policy Research report estimated an excluded child costs society £371,000 over their lifetime through crime, unemployment, poor health and poor quality care for dependants.

The most recent published figures on exclusions (2016-17, www.gov.uk) show UK exclusions on the rise, to 41 permanent exclusions and 2010 fixed-term exclusions per day. The same report notes that persistent disruptive behaviour remains the most common reason for permanent and fixed-period exclusions in state-funded secondary schools, accounting for over a third of cases. SOHK for Schools specifically addresses self-control and commitment to education, the factors which we find lie behind the majority of disruptive behaviour.

The grant from South Wales and Monmouthshire freemasons comes through the Masonic Charitable Foundation, which is funded by freemasons, their families and friends, from across England and Wales.

Jack Lewars, Chief Operating Officer of the School of Hard Knocks, said:
“Children excluded from school face a bleak future. Thanks to the grant from the freemasons, we can help hundreds of children at risk of exclusion to control their behaviour, develop self-confidence and turn their lives around.”

Gareth Jones from the freemasons said:
“I’m very pleased we’ve been able to help the School of Hard Knocks with their excellent programme in Welsh schools. Excluded children are highly likely to be unemployed later in life, existing on benefits and with a much greater likelihood of spending time in prison. By tackling their problems early, their future can be transformed.”