Sporting chance

24 May 2018

Finding ways to help Hopefuls get active can have a huge impact on their long-term wellbeing (both mental and physical), and is one of the most practical ways we can help them. A variety of things can get in the way of young people getting active, including lack of access to all but a very limited selection of sports, cost of clubs, or the fact that parents or carers aren’t necessarily in a position to support them in getting to practices. As a result, more than a third of children in Islington are overweight or obese by the time they leave Primary School, with children from the most deprived areas twice as likely to be obese as those from the least deprived areas.

Last year, we received a grant to cover the cost of a programme of sports taster activities led by specialist coaches, and over the past 10 months we have run classes in dance, badminton, Zumba, tennis, and Mixed Martial Arts or MMA which uses techniques from boxing, kick boxing and Muay Thai, wrestling, Ju-jutsu and judo. The MMA sessions have been a particular favourite with Hopefuls and the benefits go far beyond the physical: the sessions bring together Hopefuls from different age groups and we have seen some fantastic cohesion between young people who otherwise wouldn’t have come into contact with each other. We’ve seen young people’s concentration skills improve as they listen carefully to instructions and take advice from adults and we’ve seen their confidence and resilience grown as they try something they thought they would never be able to do, or that they have failed at in the past.

We’re looking forward to running many more of these kinds of activities in the future.

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This year, through our Transition project, in partnership with the Caspari Foundation, we've been supporting six young people as they make the move to Secondary School. Earlier in the year, we heard an educational psychotherapist’s view on why transition to secondary school is harder for some young people that others. This time, we asked some Hopefuls in year 7 about their experiences over the few months:

How did you feel before you started?

M: “I was scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen or who was going to be there.”

D: “You don’t really know what’s coming, you don’t know what your friend groups are going to be, you don’t know how the school is and if you’re going to like it. It’s a big change in your life.

What was it like on the first day?

M: “It was quiet because no-one knew anyone and then as we got to know each other it was cool but it was really scary at first. You don’t even get up or put your hand up or talk, it was that scary.:

Was there anything that you experienced that you weren’t expecting?

M: It being so strict and having so much homework.

D: Dealing with the teachers when they shout about homework and behaviour.

Are you still in touch with your friends from primary school?

M: No. The friends I’ve got now I met in year 7

D: We talk but we’re not exactly friends.

Did you feel you could talk to anyone at school about the things you found difficult?

No, not at all. There was people at the school but because we didn’t know them we didn’t feel we could open up to them.

What about now?

M: There’s one person in school I can talk to. She’s a learning mentor and I just feel like she’s there for me.

D: No, there’s no-one even now.

Could anything have prepared you better for moving to secondary school?

M: In primary, if I’d behaved better I’d have learned more and I’d be in higher sets for things and I wouldn’t be misbehaving so much in school. I think in primary year 6 I think they should get you ready for it because it is a big change.

What would be your advice to year 6s about the year ahead?

Try not to be scared. Put your head down, work hard and don’t think school is just about friends because you’re there for a good education and your education at the moment is going to affect your whole life.

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For the past two years, Urban Hope has been working with the Caspari Foundation to provide intensive individual support to young people making the transition to secondary school. Each year, we work with six students who are moving into year 7 and have been identified by their school or family as being at high risk of struggling with the move.

In this blog post Caspari Educational Psychotherapist Elizabeth talks about the challenges of transition, why they are greater for some students than others, and the difference that additional support can make.

“Transition to secondary school is a big shift for all young people because it involves big external changes to the pupil’s routines – finding one’s way around in a much larger environment, getting to know new people and generally being a ‘small fish in a large pond’ – and also the loss of a secure base in primary school where teachers know pupils individually and can respond to their needs accordingly. Young people might lose friends going to different schools, have difficulty making new ones, and face the fear of being bullied as the youngest pupils in the school. All this happens during the onset of adolescence, which is a turbulent time in itself.

Some young people find the transition even more difficult than others. They may have already experienced significant trauma or loss – anything from parents separating to the death of a family member – and the transition can evoke the memory of these earlier experiences. The birth of a new sibling, a house move, a parent’s mental illness or struggle with addiction can all be factors that make adaption to new environments harder for a young person. Looked-after children, having experienced a much higher degree of family break-up and loss, tend to find transitions particularly hard. Feelings of isolation, low self-esteem, difficulties in keeping up with the new pace of learning and adjusting to stricter rules and regulations are common difficulties.

In the classroom, students who are struggling with the transition will often cause low-level disruption, chatting to their classmates, making noise, tapping on the desk and other behaviours, generally avoiding learning and disturbing the learning of others. In some cases they deliberately ‘misbehave’ in order to get sent out of class so that they can avoid the learning environment altogether. In time, and without intervention, they may give up and start to truant or refuse school altogether, or, be temporarily or permanently excluded.

Educational Psychotherapy is a way of helping children and young people who have emotional barriers to learning and who struggle with social development. In 1:1 sessions, a child or young person can explore areas of difficulty with the help of a trained therapist Educational Psychotherapist (EPt) through the metaphor of books, games and other media. Problems tend to be looked at in a slightly indirect or oblique way, which can seem less threatening to the young person.

As part of the transition project, an assessment is carried out over three sessions to identify any emotional issues a young person is facing that might be affecting their learning or causing behavioural problems. The sessions are conducted by an EPt who can relate those emotional issues to that student’s behaviour in the classroom. So, for example, a lack of security in their relationship with a parent or carer can make it hard for the student to accept and absorb knowledge from teachers or other staff.

Teachers, parents or carers and youth workers receive a copy of the report at the end of the assessment to help them understand the specific needs of the young person. It gives pointers as to their underlying emotional needs, and suggests ways of helping the young person engage better in the classroom. It can be really helpful for teachers to be made aware of what is behind disruption so that they understand what they are seeing in the classroom rather than interpreting it simply as bad behaviour. It also arms parents with more information about their child’s emotional needs during this uncertain period, and puts them in a better position to offer support while their child adapts to the new environment.

An Urban Hope youth worker will then begin regular mentoring with the student. They offer a neutral space, a secure base and an informed listener who the young person can talk to about any difficulties and get feedback. Urban Hope can also offer vital alternative opportunities for social interaction with peers outside the school environment at drop-ins and on residentials.

In the coming weeks, we’ll post further blogs looking at our transition project from different angles including talking to young people about their personal experiences of the move to secondary school, and a youth worker perspective.

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