When Carl Froch and George Groves step into the ring tonight, we’ll see British boxing at its most glamorous. All 80,000 Wembley tickets sold out in under an hour, and the TV audience is predicted to run into the millions. The pre-fight hype—part of the theatre of most great sport—has rivalled that of any other recent event. #FrochGroves2 is trending on Twitter, and fans are straining to win a signed Carl Froch glove.
But we’re also reminded of boxing’s humbler roots. While Froch trains at a state of the art facility in Sheffield, Groves has stayed with the small London gym he has always used. ‘It’s like a second home to me’, he says. It’s the place he feels comfortable and at peace.
This sort of sentiment recalls what The Boxing Academy aims to achieve. An alternative education provider in Hackney, each year The Boxing Academy hosts up to forty 13 to 16 year olds at risk of being excluded from mainstream school.
So far, so every day. Yet this provider differs from others in its approach where academic work is alternated throughout the day with training in boxing and other sports. In other words, boxing is the hook which helps reengage otherwise hard-to-reach young people in education.
We at NPC know the Boxing Academy well, and some of our clients have made grants to the charity, topping up the statutory income it receives per pupil to fund the extras (mostly staff) that help it to thrive.
Although impact measurement is not yet comprehensive, the numbers we do have are encouraging. Attendance rates average over 90%, implying that the young people who are referred there are more engaged than they had been in their mainstream schools.
Academically, the students come away with qualifications they might not have otherwise achieved—81% of Year 11s passed GCSE maths and English last year and, since its opening in 2006, 90% have moved into further education or employment.
Money is tight and reserves are low—it is difficult for head teacher Anna Cain to combine the day-to-day running of the school with fundraising—but The Boxing Academy is nothing if not ambitious. It is currently stepping up efforts to expand its site to accommodate the demand it sees for places.
As one student, Dylan, commented: ‘I got kicked out of school for fighting so at first it didn’t make sense to me to be sent to a place where you train in fighting.
‘But now I can see it works. Boxing controls me and I’m not so easily wound up. I walk away from fights on the street because I know the consequences. I feel less angry and would think twice before an argument. I’ve been coming for two years and I really love it–I actually want to come to school every day. I feel the teachers here understand us and allow us to express ourselves. When I leave I want to gain some building qualifications and go into construction.’
As George Groves himself has said: ‘Go down to your local gym where you can learn to fight, you can learn to box, you can learn discipline, you can learn respect. All these attributes will help set you up for whatever you do later in life.’