Christian education charity The Lighthouse Group is working with the Salvation Army to help get children who have been excluded from Birmingham schools back on track. Education Correspondent Shahid Naqvi finds out how they do it.
Mike Royal’s reason for working with excluded children is simple.
“There is a need to ensure there is provision for these young people because if there isn’t, then the potential is you may as well give them a time and a date when they end up in prison.
“Statistics show two thirds of people in prison were excluded from school.”
It’s to stop this happening that The Lighthouse Group exists. The organisation currently runs three centres, which it describes as independent schools, but has plans to expand.
As well as the year-old facility in Birmingham, the others are in Bradford and Manchester. Another is about to open in south London.
Mr Royal said the major thing Lighthouse schools provide is the right environment.
“The key thing is working with smaller groups because we are working with some young people who have school phobia and the size and scale of mainstream school is not something that they adapt to well.
“One of our education suites looks like a cross between a classroom and a youth centre. The way that works is that young people work on an engaging, varied programme where work is rewarded by some continual leisure time. It may mean time on a snooker table. Group work plays a major part.
“What we are about is giving them practical skills that will equip young people to get the best out of their learning experience.”
Youngsters who attend the school are aged between 12 and 16. About half of them have already been excluded from their school and the other half, typically, have been given an ultimatum to attend the centre or get kicked out of school.
A maximum of nine youngsters attend at any one time with a minimum staff-to-pupil ratio of one-to-three.
They will spend a couple of days at the centre then either return to their school, college or alternative educational provision for the rest of the week.
As well as one-to one-support to help them with the issues acting as a barrier to learning, they also work towards life skills qualifications like ASDAN, which are equal to GCSEs.
Lighthouse was supported by the Salvation Army to the tune of £64,500 in the last financial year. The school in Aston costs in the region of £150,000 a year to run. Mr Royal believes such investment represents a cost saving in the long run if it stops youngsters from falling outside the education system.
“It costs more to educate a young person that has been excluded from school than a child that hasn’t,” he said. “But at the same time if you don’t intervene the cost of potentially taking them through the criminal justice system is far higher.
“There is not enough resource being put into picking up the signs of educational disaffection early. All the statistics show that many young people fall through the gap in the transition from primary school into secondary school.
“In primary school you more or less have the same teacher all the way through. Then all of a sudden you are in a context where you are being taught by different teachers and you are expected to be self-motivated.
“Some young people don’t make that transition well. They end up in the wrong peer group. That, coupled with the fact they are in their early teens and they are developing naturally, means it is easy to go off track.”
Mr Royal said he believed the time was right for charities and religious organisations such as Lighthouse to be more involved in schools.
“Go back 150 years ago and it was Christian groups that were delivering health services, social services and education. In the post-war era we almost handed that over to the State. More recently in the last 20 years there has been a recognition that the public sector is not always the best place to provide these services so there is a real role for the Church, the voluntary sector and Christian charities to step up to the plate.”
Both the current Government and the Conservatives have signalled “positive responses” to The Lighthouse’s work, said Mr Royal, and the charity has advised on national policy development.
“The Government recently brought out a White Paper called Back on Track which recognises the need to reassess the provision of alternative education for excluded young people.
“It recognises that smaller alternative education providers have a major part to play in providing for young people.”
Mr Royal claimed the success of The Lighthouse’s work was shown by the fact that pupils who go through the programme typically go on to attend college and gain qualifications or go into employment.
Ultimately he believes the charity’s work is a Christian one.
“I always say love of God is translated as loving your neighbour and the neighbour in modern society is the community. This is about demonstrating love and concern for those in your community.”