The Boxing Academy

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from The Boxing Academy is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Headteacher Anna Cain
Role models as a source of
The Boxing Academy offers opportunities for learning and
development to the most hard-to-reach young people,
realised through the discipline and ethos of boxing. It
started life as a community project in a boxing gym and opened
its doors to 12 pupils in the first year. The academy converted
into an alternative provision free school in 2017 and is the only
government-funded boxing-based school in Britain. Anna Cain
was appointed headteacher in 2009 and developed its unique
and innovative approach to working with the most challenging
and vulnerable children in the education system. The school has
a reputation for achieving extraordinary outcomes for a cohort
that many have written off – something Anna expands upon.
The Boxing Academy caters for pupils who are at risk of exclusion, or who have
already been excluded, from mainstream education. For many of our pupils,
education has felt like nothing more than an elaborate punishment since they
started in reception. Prior to us, they have not settled into an incremental process
of learning, nor have they become acquainted with the value of a “proper” job,
so they struggle to negotiate the school journey. Primary school with its nurturing
structure can be moderately successful, but the transition to secondary is often the
trigger for a cycle of disengagement, exclusion and low self-esteem.
The evidence around the importance of education during early teenage years is
compelling. Statistics published by the Youth Justice Board show that over 85 per
cent of the 15 to 18-year-olds currently held in prisons had been excluded from
school, and around 40 per cent had last been at school when they wereunder14.
»Headteacher: Anna Cain
»Founded in 2007
»Based in Hackney, East London
»Type of school: Alternative
provision free school
»No. of pupils: 40
»No. of staff: 17
»100 per cent of leavers
have gone on to further
education, apprenticeships or
employment since 2014
»TES AP School of the Year
The Boxing Academy
Highlighting best practice
These pupils are vulnerable to
exploitation, and being excluded is
a lengthy process that leaves them
sitting at home waiting for a referral,
which makes them a perfect candidate
for gangs to groom as carriers.
Most of them have attachment or
trauma-related issues from early
childhood and can present as
aggressive, violent and antisocial in
order to mask their vulnerability. In the
early years of the Boxing Academy,
I was advised to offer shorter – that
is, more lucrative – placements for
schools who wanted respite, but we
do not believe this is in our pupils’ best
interests. There is no quick fix; they
require a longer-term commitment than
most alternative programmes allow.
Helping those who most need
our help
A typical Boxing Academy journey is
two years long, throughout Key Stage
4, at which point they reintegrate
back into mainstream education by
progression to an apprenticeship or
college. Some pupils have even been
accepted back into the sixth form at
the school that referred them to us.
The Boxing Academy has a capacity of
40 pupils, of which currently five are
girls, and all of them are registered as
SEN Support. There are eight pupils
on an EHC Plan and three are LAC.
Of our current cohort, 20 per cent
attended more than two secondary
schools during KS3, and 58 per cent
have been rejected from two or more
alternative provision placements before
coming to the Boxing Academy. Most
of them have an episode of violence
or aggression on their school record
that makes it easy for placements to be
refused in other APs.
Nevertheless, our outcomes are
exceptional in the sector: pupils make
significantly more than mainstream
expectations of progress from their
baseline starting point, and all of
our leavers gain a place in further
education or an apprenticeship. During
most weeks at the Boxing Academy,
a former pupil will drop in to do
some boxing, seek advice or give us
an update. They’re all still part of
Why boxing?
Our ethos reflects our origins as a
boxing gym: a small, comfortable
and familial environment with clear
boundaries, a system of rewards and
an emphasis on discipline, achievement
and hard work. The school’s success is
built on relationships, and the boxers
we employ as pastoral staff are key,
because young people instinctively look
up to and respect them as strong role
models. Within the boxing gym, they
present a positive image of respect
for others, discipline, responsibility,
a work ethic and good manners.
Having a consistent adult role model
in a child’s life allows for genuine
breakthroughs in behaviour, conflict
resolution and anger management,
as well as academic improvement and
We’re registered as a boxing club
with England Boxing, so the training
is of the highest quality. Interestingly,
though, most pupils referred to us
don’t usually have any interest in
Raising aspirations and
improving mindsets
through boxing
All of our
leavers gain a
place in
education or
boxing. However, once they’ve settled
in, they agree that boxing gets them
fit, teaches them anger management
and discipline, and improves their
confidence and concentration. The
boxers support them both in the gym
and during academic classes, which
provides consistency throughout the
day. Our staff are locally recruited,
trained and emotionally intelligent.
They get involved in their pupils’ lives,
even collecting them from home if they
need support with their attendance.
The result is a strong relationship that
provides a foundation from which the
pupils can rebuild their self-esteem and
start a positive cycle of achievement.
Expanding horizons
We believe our duty to provide a
good education involves much more
than classroom teaching and exams.
It involves debunking myths such
as “prison is calm” and countering
their ingrained belief that nothing
positive will ever happen to them,
so they might as well not try. To
be independent and successful in
adulthood, they need to experience
a flavour of the world outside
their filters, a world that they find
uncomfortable at first.
City firms are kind enough to host us
for days of employability workshops
and lunch in the boardroom so that
they can experience the challenges
and opportunities for skill-building
that are essential to grow strong. Our
pupils also visit museums, work on
art projects in universities and host
visitors at the Academy. For pupils
who were routinely hidden from view
in the mainstream, it is empowering
to be presenting to guests, parents
and local dignitaries. We take them
out of their comfort zone, but with
all the wraparound support, love and
encouragement that our noisy family
of a school provides.
This is why, in January 2019, we took
a party of pupils and staff skiing in the
French Alps (funded in full by a kind
donor). To avoid educational and social
isolation, children need to work through
their fears and conquer their doubts.
If you help disadvantaged children see
the world and form an understanding
of how other people live (here and
abroad), then you build resilience, which
raises aspirations, improves confidence
and expands opportunities. As the
saying goes: “Prepare the child for the
road, not the road for the child.”
registered as a
boxing club
with England
Boxing, so the
training is of
the highest
Engagement as a key to
Broadening experiences

This article was sponsored by The Boxing Academy. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.