“Relationship can restore a young person’s trust in people; it nurtures the belief that things can change and that an alternative future is possible.”
POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS BRING POSITIVE CHANGE
Patrick Regan OBE, founder of XLP, shares how the Christian community can help improve the educational outcomes of young people, and raise their aspirations and ambitions
Educational failure – faced by some of Britain’s most vulnerable pupils – is a real tragedy. Too many young people from disadvantaged communities leave school without a solid educational foundation. Four out of 10 young people don’t attain five good GCSEs including English and Maths, according to 2011 figures from the Department for Education (DfE). The latest available figures show that some 5,740 pupils were permanently expelled from state schools in England in 2009/10, and 331,380 suspensions were made. In primary schools alone, some 620 children were expelled, including 220 under-sevens (source: DfE).
If we want to tackle these trends and see change in our communities, we need first to understand the drivers behind educational failure. The Centre for Social Justice 2011 Exclusion report, No Excuses, highlighted the ways in which “many pupils are being profoundly misunderstood within some mainstream schools.”
Young people often need emotional support to enable them to take hold of the opportunities; they need people to come
alongside them. Very often, family breakdown can contribute to a poor educational record, and it is prevalent. Nearly half of all children born today will experience family breakdown by the age of 16, and 15% of children are born into homes without a resident biological father (source: CSJ). Through challenging home situations, young people can often act out to all those in authority – often their parents and teachers – as well as disengaging from education.
Very often, the needs of young people with Special Educational Needs (SEN) are also overlooked. Pupils with SEN account for 74% of permanent exclusions (CSJ). They have particular requirements that are not being addressed in busy school environments. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who qualify for free school meals, are approximately four times more likely to be permanently excluded than children who are not eligible for them (CSJ).
In our inner cities, the prevalence of gangs and violence can be a major influence on pupils, preventing them from fulfilling their potential. I’ve met young people wearing bulletproof vests to school as they feared for their lives; young women carrying a knife into school for protection, and another pregnant young woman being assaulted by her gang-member boyfriend on school premises.
We can’t be naive about these challenges, but we must refuse to be disheartened by them. As Christians, hope is an amazing part of our heritage and our inheritance. It can set us apart, and make us stand out in a society that is increasingly cynical and worn down by the pain it sees in the world. We worship the God of all hope (Romans 15:13), the God who clearly demonstrates to us through the Bible that there is always reason to have hope – no matter how bad things seem.
From my 18 years of working with young people in inner cities, the key to bringing about sustainable change in the lives of young people is ‘relationship’. Relationship can restore a young person’s trust in people; it nurtures the belief that things can change and that an alternative future is possible, and it acts as a reference point for determining right and wrong. I have witnessed courageous life decisions made by young people emerging from tragic and hopeless situations, because of a strong and trusted relationship. Through such a relationship, a young person realises that change is possible and, in order to see that change happen, they begin to work hard and alter their behaviour and attitudes. It takes time and, for the other party in the relationship, it can be tough; young people can change, but they don’t always change quickly or easily!
At XLP, we started XL-Mentoring, which links volunteers from local communities and churches to young people who are struggling in school – some on the verge of exclusion. Our mentors are dedicated and persistent, even though it’s not always easy. We are committed to the long haul, to see change happen in the lives of young people – no matter how long it takes. And it works!
I’ve seen some amazing life-changing stories over the last twelve months. A young man, who suffered from anger issues and struggled in school, is now avoiding fights and working hard to improve his grades. A girl, who was on the verge of expulsion, is now well on the way to achieving six GCSEs, and has an apprenticeship starting this summer. A young man, who was involved in gang crime, is now doing well at school and ran for Young Mayor of Lewisham. All three young people now have hope for the future, and if the Church is about anything, it’s about hope.
Patrick Regan is founder of London youth charity, XLP, and was recently awarded an OBE for services to young people. Patrick’s new book, No Ceiling to Hope (published by Monarch) is out now. If you/your church would like to get involved in XL-Mentoring in Lewisham, Southwark or Tower Hamlets, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.