The children who blossom at Bromley's last stop school which 'listens'.
Tucked away behind a church down a quiet lane off Hayes Lane, Bromley, you would barely notice Kingswood was there. A newly-refurbished small building, with small classrooms and artwork adorning the walls — it all looks pretty unassuming.
But inside are 49 children who, amongst other things, are victims of violence, neglect, self-harm and depression.
All have been excluded from schools in Bromley — it is the last stop for badly-behaved youngsters aged 11 to 16, the place where ‘unteachable’ kids come.
Since appointing a new head Marie Neave last year, Kingswood has drastically bucked the national trend for achievement at so-called Pupil Referral Units and in the face of extreme adversity its pupils are turning their lives around.
The school, funded by Bromley council, almost doubled its number of five A*-G GCSEs this year, tallying 41 per cent from 22 per cent in 2009. The national average for referral units is just 14.1 per cent.
Emma Baggett, 15, is in her second year having been excluded for destructive behaviour.
She says: “I had a lot on my mind. I would just walk out of lessons. This place has changed my life. I’ve never had teachers like it. They listen to you.
“I didn’t care about my education, I had an attitude. I would act up for an audience.”
For many, it is the first time in their lives they have been cared for and shown respect.
Counsellor Georgia Robinson is at the school four days a week and hears the heartbreaking stories behind the bad behaviour.
She says: “The kids have all sorts of problems. Abuse is very common — physical, sexual and neglect.
“A lot of them have deep-set emotional problems, many have disruptive homes. They show their vulnerability in an aggressive way. It’s a way of keeping people at arms length.
“Some feel as though there is no hope. To get families to come in can be very difficult, sometimes because of the nature of the problem. I always have the child with me when counselling with parents otherwise they will fantasise about what’s said.
“This place has changed a huge amount in a year. There was a ‘them and us’ thing with the kids — almost a war. The kids have more respect for the school now — it’s a place where they can be happy.”
Asked exactly what has brought about the change, Mrs Neave says: “Everything from the curriculum to the name to the way the staff act. We have a maximum of six in a class and are able to meet the learning and emotional needs of the students as a result.
“We took a group to the beach — none of them had ever been to the seaside before. It’s about showing them the other side of life — if you get qualifications, if you get jobs, this is what you can do. Every day is emotional. It is a very intense place to work.”
It is not news that deprivation is linked to underachievement, something the Government has made a top priority to change but some 80 per cent of the pupils come from Bromley’s most deprived wards which are amongst the poorest in the UK.
Ben Goodall, 16, from Elmers End, left last summer and is now enrolled on a carpentry course at Bromley College. He said: “I’d have no GCSEs if I didn’t come here. The teachers listen to you if something goes wrong.
“In mainstream they would tell you to shut up or if you did something bad they would hold a grudge forever. You get 100 per cent respect. They know what you’ve been through and they give you help.”
Here the children depend on each other as much as the staff.
Ahkeam Hutchinson, 16, was excluded for repeated fighting. He says: “You can come from any race or minority and still become friends. There are no stereotypes. We’ve all had our problems. We all know about that. Here you are accepted for who you are. I’ve completely changed. Sometimes you just need to calm down and listen.”
Judgement is a recurring theme with the pupils — they don’t want to be seen as outcasts. When Mrs Neave arrived, one of the first things they asked was to get rid of the ‘centre’ from the previously named Kingswood Centre.
Chantelle Taylor, 15, says: “People think centres and units are for bad kids. But it’s only because of things in our pasts. They think centres are for failures. But some of the people here are the smartest I know.”
Kingswood has recently been recommended as a possible national model for other pupil referral units.
Looking to the future Mrs Neave says: “We started adult education on October 1 — a lot of parents have had the same experiences as their children so it’s about breaking the cycle.
“We’re going to keep giving bespoke education, support them, aim to give them confidence and try to give them everything they need to become responsible young adults.”