Challenger Troop CIC, Submissions to DfE, 15.07.2020 - issues faced by disadvantaged groups, with an initial inquiry into the educational underachievement of white pupils from disadvantaged background



Submitted by Simon Dean OBE, response to calling notice DfE Ed Committee 05.06.20. 

Reason: To raise awareness of the positive impact of specialist Early Interventions Programmes in support of children effected by neglect and disadvantaged by the lack of support during Covid 19.


Challenger Troop CIC, An Outreach Programme for children and young people of educational age.


The Beneficial Impact of Suitable Role Models on disadvantaged white pupils:



I have 40 years of experience working within community youth organisations and am founder and Director of Challenger Troop CIC (CT) Youth Engagement Programmes (established 2007 to present). Employer ex members of the Armed Forces as youth leaders and mentors, we have a positive impact on vulnerable young people’s lives and educational outcomes. (* We are unable to offer an extensive data set profiling the problem facing white disadvantaged young people of educational, however there is a significant amount of data sent to DfE from the Mil Ethos Programmes UK).


I give my official view as founder and Director of Challenger Troop CIC, Youth Engagement Programme Provider to education of some 15 years, and as Project Director of the Army Cadet Force Association, MOD and DfE Outreach programme (project closed down in 2005)


I also offer a personal viewpoint from working within the cadet forces for over 40 years.


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Short Introduction to Challenger Troop CIC (Community Interest Company)



Summary: Why I think I know how to help resolve the problems some of our children and young people face today . . . a personal episode

I was adopted into a middle-class family which fell apart and shattered my fragile world during my early years in education (KS2). I became a bereaved and disadvantaged white boy due to the circumstances that surrounded me, of which I had no control over. I moved between various schools and struggled to be accepted by my peers in an education setting and ultimately failed to achieve 5 CSE's, leaving school at 15.


My Lifeboat . . . my safe place

I fell back on the one place where I felt safe, valued, respected and supportedmy local Army Cadet Detachment. It was somewhere in my community where I felt I had my own place to go and my own people to speak to. The ACF filled my world with skills and experiences which gave me hope, social and leadership skills, which built my confidence and self-discipline and gave me the courage to try new things and push myself further. All this mixed in with great role models, whom as volunteers were there for me and my friends, and because they genuinely dedicated their time to "inspire us to achieve" the outcome was inevitable . . . . . . we achieved!


You can’t kid a kid

Young people can see through any façade or false intent. If we don’t genuinely and passionately want to help them make a change in their lives, they won’t. They will test us to ensure we are true to our words and that our deeds are consistently and genuinely respectful and supportive. We can be the strength and inspiration our neglected children need to get back in the game, any game.


What I learnt from the experience

My own experience taught me that not everyone’s circumstances are as one might assume "all being ok in the school setting". There are too many “Grey Men” figuratively speaking, falling through the cracks. With over 8.5 million children in education, as a nation we take a big risk if we get their education wrong. The education machine assumes, like a food processor, that all the ingredients will ultimately make a palatable product and that what is processed is good for you. I think we are all aware that this is not working for all, especially when we don’t know what other negative influences are having a social and emotional influence on a child’s life.

I have worked across large areas of London and North West and Southern England with hundreds of schools in deprived areas and my teams have worked with over 47,000 children most in education and some permanently excluded.


Common factors

In some areas of the country there are high concentrations of more vulnerable families, due to lower incomes, where there may be more chaotic family lives and broken homes. Commonly these areas will be managed by Housing Associations or there may be large concentrations of (LAC) Looked After Children within a Borough. As such the school nearest to these areas will be going all out to support these vulnerable families and children, providing Breakfast Clubs, After School Clubs, etc. These schools are not always the school of choice either, as they struggle to maintain the level of grade expectation that some other schools will find it easier to achieve in, for example, more middle-class areas. These schools can then become the last resort school (even sometimes the dumping ground). Other schools will also suggest that their school is not suitable for a child with SEMH (social, emotional and mental health) needs, and perhaps they should try the last resort school down the road as it might be better for their child who will fit in easier there.


Schools in deprived areas – children fall off the radar by volume

It is very hard for the Head Teachers of these schools in challenging areas to keep a focused and consistent approach to learning within the school. With sometimes high levels of absenteeism and parents who do not engage with the normal forms of school communications, it is a continual battle for heads to maintain standards, retain good teachers and manage high needs children with limited resources and often teacher shortages &/or illness (sometimes due to stress).

As an example: at one school I was working at there was a brother and sister (separate year groups) who would demand at least 50% of the lead class teachers time, sometimes on a daily basis. They often had to have continual 1-1 supervision by the lead teacher, just to avoid continual disruption to the wider class and sometimes school. This child management frequently fell to the teacher who was ready and prepared to deal with the needy children, leaving just one or two teaching assistants to supervise the remainder of the class. This sent out the wrong signal to the other children, especially the quieter vulnerable onesmisbehave and you get the attention you so badly crave.


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Why do the more vulnerable quiet children get left behind

The levels of disruption constantly undermined the whole class, but the class had pretty much all grown up with these needy children in their classroom so it was the excepted norm. Not only that, some of the parents had been to the same school as their children and had a very negative attitude towards the school and therefore would antagonise the situation with their attitude towards the teachers. Some of children suffered from all different forms of neglect and sometimes even abuse. This was an additional issue for the school to manage, dealing with an unprecedented amount of safeguarding issues and regularly calling social services to try and get some intervention for the children where there were high levels of concern. Some will have undiagnosed learning difficulties including speech and language difficulties, where again additional one to one support was required to help a child with their learning, but quite often the disruptive children were taking all the support teachers time.

“They are just a naughty or disruptive boy / girl” – how’s that for a teacher’s common room label? Therefore, the learning mix is subtly toxic and for some people the impact of their influence on a young person’s life is ignored or unseen.


White minority groups: Gypsy, Romani, Traveller Group (GRT).

We have also worked in Primary Schools where there is a significant number of White GRT children, whom in some cases are almost running the school and carrying out their own disciplinary procedures. They are part of a proud culture raised in the Gypsy way, disciplined and skilled at being self-reliant, confident in the art of negotiation, etc. Some teachers are very wary of what they say to whom in these school communities, as some families will not tolerate their children being spoken to directly in certain ways and family feuds can spill over into the school community. There were always parents being called into meetings with the head teacher. Teachers were often rattled and brow beaten for doing their job by the parents, with their best intentions being misunderstood and criticised, undermining the levels of commitment some TAs and teachers would have to support these children.

This also leaves the other children in the shade when it comes to being engaged in the classroom and stepping up with confidence, facing off on issues and taking on responsibilities, other children in the class are also wary of how they respond and react, subsequently being left behind due to the more dominant and disruptive children in the class getting all the attention.

As we know some of these children will only attend Primary School education as paths have already been chosen for them outside school.


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Dealing with disruption, the CT way

Our programme is about engaging the whole class, working with the head and school staff to align our approach to the current class culture and school strategic development plan, behaviour management and class reward system.

We start by levelling the sub group hierarchythey are not in charge, we are. We introduce high levels of expectation for each and every child to succeed. We introduce a health and fitness “regime” built along a progressive set of physical activity targets. All students take part in team challenges and other challenging physical tasks, linked to a set of key values and learning outcomes to support the main school curriculum and class syllabus. We set clear boundaries and ensure our staff and work ethic is consistent. We never let a child down and always deliver on what we say. We reward progress in all areas throughout every session and ignore low level disruptive behaviour by focusing on the positives of the disruptor and redirecting their energy towards a more positive activity. We reinforce the adage that failing is learning, mistakes are lessons and both are good things. We teach that we are all able to learn because we allow ourselves to fail, failing is good, mistakes are not stupid and learning by our mistakes is a huge achievement and celebrated.

We also make sure we identify the more vulnerable children in the group and bring them to the fore, create opportunities for success within the group and even lead the team when possible. This has a very positive impact on them, especially when their failures are supported by others and their success are celebrated by all and communicated to their parents at home.


Does the one size Progress Eight suit all the children?

Well, (metaphorically speaking) some are on the bus, some even want to drive the bus, some just want to enjoy the ride (not really listening) and to look out of the window on this journey, some just want to stop it and work on the engine or see if they can make it go faster and some are always chasing the bus and some never really caught the bus at the start of their journey. Will they all get to the final destination in the same order? Of course not, around 45% will fail. So, is one vehicle right for all types of children to travel on through the school years?

Is driving the wide and wonderful array of talents dwelling within our “next” young generation through a progress 8 stream of academic subjects the only way we can give value to all our young people who pass through our education system, especially when we consider that many tradespeople like plumbers are higher earners than a large percentage of academic graduates? It is well known in further education colleges that young people wishing to follow a “Tradesman’s Path become aware and grab the importance of the need to know and how to apply key functional skills to the job role, so it becomes more relevant to the passive learner when applied to a skills setting.

At Challenger Troop we have a mountain of evidence that clearly demonstrates that a whole school early intervention culture in education works well as long as the response is appropriate, achievable and supported throughout the school as a consistent approach.


Too often we will get the call from a concerned teacher telling us about some particular little Fire Balls who are becoming difficult to engage or manage, in other words we have vulnerable children that the school are finding really hard to reach and are becoming disengaged from learning environment, socially disengaged and disaffected by the home environment.


So, why is this happening? Contributing factors:

  1.                                       Lack of resources and time
  2.                                       Funding and budget restrictions
  3.                                       Lack of trained staff and role models
  4.                                       Inconsistency of environment
  5.                                       Lack of parental support
  6.                                       Undiagnosed learning difficulties
  7.                                       Other overriding priorities
  8.                                       Chaotic home life
  9.                                       Significant levels of neglect


So, solutions Have faithevery child wants to do well, always!

  1.                                       CT is probably one of the longest established and well-resourced youth engagement programmes, able to apply our extensive experience and a huge array of equipment and training resources for an on-site or off-site provision. We can also deliver enrichment and reward days for 100s of children at any one time.
  2.                                       I think it is important to emphasise the level of possibilities for early intervention from a wide variety of support in the third sector, willing and able to support and sometimes fund early intervention youth provision. The third sector and public sector just need to learn how to work together better.
  3.                                       School Staff are under pressure in the classroom, not only in regard to delivering to expectations, but also subject to a social and emotional drain as they try to be the holistic solution in a childs life. CT Instructors not only work with students but also with parents and teaching staff to develop effective engagement that offer solutions and interventions that have a proven track record on delivering positive outcomes.
  4.                                       Consistency is very hard to achieve in the school environment, especially when schools are short staffed and teachers are moved around the school or even between schools in a MAT setting. When we add the possibility of an unsettled home life, we find children need adults more than ever and they need to be consistent in every way. CT staff run a disciplined and well-structured programme with high expectations and the opportunity to focus more on the individual higher needs of children than might normally be possible in the classroom.
  5.                                       Parental supportwhen it comes to working with parents to help a student improve and develop, its a very mixed bag! Parents can often defend their child in the role of friend rather than neutralised position of parent, or their own lives are chaotic and school is somewhere to look after the kids while they try and sort their own problems out. Sometimes parents may also feel lost, not knowing what to do or have the strength to tackle the issues that needs to be addressed. CT works hard to engage with parents and involve them in their child’s journey. This does not always work, but when it does, we are able to demonstrate to the child’s parents as to how competent and capable they truly are and build relationships and little pride in a parents heart and in turn raise self-esteem in the child.
  6.                                       It is harder than ever to get a CAMHS statement for children with SEMH concerns. That often means that the TA or teachers are having to deal with the symptoms of the issues that children face, often having to leave the classroom and neglect the core group for the sake of a very needy child. The CT programme has been designed to be very engaging, especially with SEND and SEMH / EHCP children. The programme also seems to work especially well with Autistic and ADHD children. Every child likes to be outdoors but it's our amazing instructors and the content of the programme that delivers the magic.
  7.                                       In every school the overriding priority is to get results, this can mean that some children are off rolled or home schooled when they become too much for the school to cope with, or there may be no inclusion or alternative provision available. Either the disengaged child is too much of a distraction in class or the school is unable to meet the needs with the resource's they have. CT works with the class room teachers to help re-engage the child into the classroom. This starts with belief and trust and subsequently builds self-esteem, steadily improving confidence and the desire to learn can follow.
  8.                                       Around 35% of the 8.5 million children in education come from broken homes. Sometimes experiencing neglect and or chaotic home life, which will have a very detrimental effective on a child’s sense of well-being and engagement in class. Lowering confidence and undermining their self-esteem. CT targets these areas to reverse negative learnt behaviours and improve self-esteem through a challenging outreach programme that really works for our children and young people by motivating them to achieve using a very different approach to a rolling class subject based system, helping them to learn essential functional skills but in a very practical way which is accessible to children of all ages and abilities.
  9.                                       With the growing number of very young and inexperienced parents, children become neglected due to poor parenting skills and dwindling finances, made significantly worse by the impact of Covid 19. CT ensure consistent and solid support to re build the Childs’ self esteem and suitable role models to inspire and encourage young people to make the right choices for their future and follow good example.


Secondary School Student on CT programme: “I was always naughty and walking out of lessons, but now I’m always in lessons, and staying in them. They teach you that if you don’t learn, you’re not getting nothing, so you should stay in the class to get it done.”


“Rather than protecting the young people that they work with, from adversity, Challenger Troop exposes young people to challenges and in doing so builds up both their resilience and their self-esteem, which has a cumulative effect on improving their behaviour and attainment.”

Stephanie Fleischer and Yaa Asare, Brighton University Evaluation Report, CT programme 2013-15


For further information and to view detailed outcome reports submitted to the DfE, please go to: http://www.challengertroop.org/our-outcomes/