Sometimes, the dull walls of a classroom simply aren’t inspiring enough to bring out the best in some of Doncaster’s youngsters.
It’s not surprising that being crammed behind a desk and told to sit quietly while working through text books can bring out bad behaviour in some pupils.
But one local school is tackling this issue head-on - by tearing away the walls and throwing a group of youngsters into the world of military fitness.
Each Monday afternoon for ten weeks, a dozen or so Danum Academy year sevens in need of some firm but fair discipline are put through their paces by three no-nonsense military personnel.
Barks of orders drift across the school field as the pupils, kitted out in sports gear and coloured bibs, dash through an obstacle course of logs, tyres and cargo nets.
“They’re all really bright sparks,” says instructor and ex Army Captain Jon Reynolds of scheme co-ordinator Military Fitness Training (MFT).
“We haven’t had difficulty explaining what it is we’re trying to achieve to them. It’s about working together as a team and when things go wrong keeping your temper rather than swearing or being violent or inappropriate.”
The blue team and red team race back to the start line of the obstacle course, with the blue team narrowly beating their opposition. They are congratulated but warned not to gloat at the losing team, and the runners-up are praised for their effort but given tips on how they can improve for the next race.
“It’s about being able to push them and give them another avenue to develop skills that they can take away into school and into the workplace as adults,” says Jon’s fellow instructor Maj David Cooke, who only returned from his last operational tour about six weeks ago.
“It’s focussing on those that aren’t academic achievers - that’s the key - and getting them used to a strict environment without it having to be the walls of a classroom. They’ll develop skills that we learned for the battlefield but they can equally be transferred into a warehouse, a classroom, at the market, or even in a job interview.”
And it looks like it’s working.
The pupils’ teachers are noticing a difference in their achievements and behaviour when they get back to lessons and it’s a trend they hope will continue throughout their secondary education.
“It’s been a real positive - they have responded well to it,” says Danum Academy’s assistant head, Nick Limber.
“It’s about filling in gaps socially - they were slightly lacking in terms of being able to work with each other and get on with each other.
“It’s made a massive difference. It’s all about the respect and discipline, understanding where the line is and building on their confidence.”
Other activities on the field include getting each pupil to stand on top of a barrel, blindfolded, then making them fall back into the arms of their peers. The exercise is designed to promote trust and teamwork.
At this session there was also supposed to be a tug of war - but the youngsters have messed around and run out of time. They are told that they have misbehaved and therefore they are being punished - and rather than the usual groans and cheeky comments, they obey when they’re told to ‘take it like men’.
One of the participants, Kyle Longden, 11, says: “They give you discipline when you’re bad but I feel glad that I’ve been chosen for this so I can get some discipline and behave better.
“Before I even did this I was thinking about going into the Army and I’m still thinking about it now. It’s made me feel confident and I feel energetic and glad that I have listened to them. They’re good instructors and they train you well.”
Over the next few weeks, the boys will continue the sessions under the watchful eyes of the MFT instructors. It is hoped that the tough challenges, different learning types and honest feedback will continue to improve their self confidence, moral compasses, social skills and, of course, their health and fitness.
Danum Academy’s head of key stage three, Nigel Roberson, who leads the school’s ‘alternative curriculum pathway’, said: “The response from the group is positive and we have already seen improvements in their school work. The programme will run for another five weeks by which time we should see the full benefits of the programme.”
Instructor Jon, who served in the 7 Para RHA (the same regiment as Ben Parkinson), carries out the training sessions in a number of venues and says his aim is always the same.
“Our intention is not to steer students toward a career in the Forces, we just want to promote the basic personal standards required of any school leaver,” he says.
“Most of the time it’s about confidence: the ability to admit when you’ve got something wrong or don’t know how to do something.
“It’s about having the confidence to stand up in front of your peers and say: ‘Can you teach me how?’”
For more information about MFT and what it offers, visit Military Fitness Training