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Sport, Recreation and the Arts - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:09 pm on 19th December 2018.

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Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 5:09 pm, 19th December 2018

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in his comments on the importance of cultivating social cohesion. He put me in mind of Clement Attlee, who was a youth worker in the East End of London. Although he was privileged and had been to public school, he gained an affection for and understanding of children living in poverty, which shaped his political efforts and the nation.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for securing this important debate. Listening to him, I was reminded of an experience stroking a Lea Valley eight 20 years ago. They were young working-class boys; it was difficult job for me to stroke. I think of the progress since that time in making rowing far more accessible to all walks of life. It is a tremendous sport, which brings great health benefits and sense of team spirit.

I declare my interest in the register as a trustee of the Brent Centre for Young People, a mental health service for young people and adolescents in north London. We use sport through our Sport and Thought programme, developed by Dr Maxim de Sauma and Daniel Smyth, to improve the conduct of young people who lack control of their impulses and who can disrupt the education of their peers—the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred to these issues.

Just this week, a Daily Telegraph front page highlighted the adverse impact on teacher retention of low-level disruption by pupils. Every day, we read of concerns about youth gangs and young people carrying knives. Sport is well suited to capturing young people tending towards anti-social behaviour and making that behaviour pro-social. Anna Freud highlighted that impulse control can be difficult in adolescents. She pointed to higher levels of aggression and identified how they move from devotion to their parents to devotion to their peer group. Working with a peer group, establishing norms of good behaviour to which newcomers wish to subscribe and appointing captains and leaders who can model good behaviour are all tools that sport can offer to the management of adolescent young people.

I recently observed the Brent Centre for Young People’s Sport and Thought programme at a secondary school in north London. The 14 boys were all of black and minority ethnic origin. Most of these young men had been facing exclusion from school. Some no longer came to school but still attended the Sport and Thought training. The football pitch was tarmacked with a high-fence surround; they wore their black uniforms and the right trainers. The clinician and the sports coach—so a therapist and a sports coach—spoke to them, laying out the rules of behaviour and what would happen if they were broken. They would be able to play football only if they behaved. They began with a jog—a few circuits of the pitch. Even that was stopped if they did not keep together. Then there were drills and finally a football match. All the time, the boys knew that they would not get their game of football if they failed to behave. The approach was strict but not punitive. The principal requirement was for them discuss why they were grew angry with their coach or team mates. The purpose was to enable them to think of another way of behaving and to manage their resentments—so apparently simple, but so effective.

One of their teachers, a young woman, came to speak to me as I observed their game. She told me of the extraordinary change in the pupils’ behaviour. Young people who had disrupted classes and received regular detentions were now avoiding reprimand for weeks on end. It was clearly a great relief to her that this sports therapy had so improved her male pupils’ behaviour. Some of the young men had become excellent footballers and others models of good behaviour; some, both. A head of year said of one beneficiary whom she taught, “It’s a miracle what you have done with Aaron. Everyone has seen a massive change”. His head teacher said, “It’s been incredible, his behaviour and whole improvement at school”.

The Brent centre provided 79 sessions to 60 young people over the past year—62 at Brent schools and 17 at the Brent Youth Offending Service. I am very grateful for this opportunity to celebrate its work.

I note in the welcome and helpful Library briefing that volunteering to support sport has dropped significantly in the last reported period. Can the Minister confirm that this is the case? What factors have led to this? What steps are being taken to remedy this drop?

I want to highlight the importance for boys and young men of positive male role models. I must have visited about 10 young offender institutions in the past 20 years. Young men in custody have often had no positive role model to emulate. Sport is one way to cultivate such models and to provide them for the young. I hope that any sports strategy developed by the Minister will include an awareness of how sport can provide positive male role models and a means to cultivate and use them.

Finally, I want to speak of another hero in another discipline: I draw noble Lords’ attention to the death of district judge Nicholas Crichton on Sunday night. He introduced family drug and alcohol courts to this country. There are now nine FDACs helping mothers to overcome their substance misuse and prevent their children being taken into local authority care. I will go no further now; I am grateful for this opportunity and I look forward to the Minister’s response.