School of Hard Knocks

In brief

School of Hard Knocks designed the programme specifically a) to prevent students at risk of permanent exclusion from leaving mainstream education and b) to help students who were struggling with normal schooling. The intervention takes place in school time but outside a classroom and it uses sport and mentoring to improve behaviour, rather than more traditional educational methods.

The full programme runs for three years, working with the same staff and children every week. Coach-mentors are supported by behavioural specialists and build strong bonds with participants through consistent contact every week of the school year.

Problem to be tackled

The programme aims at pupils between the age of 13 and 16, who have been subject to exclusion in the past, are educationally disengaged or face possible permanent exclusion. The main reason for permanent exclusion is persistent disruptive behaviour, which accounts for a third of all exclusions, further reasons are low confidence, poor self control, difficulties with social cohesion and problems communicating effectively.

Local partner

School of Hard Knocks works across London, Cardiff and Edinburgh. The partnership with The SOL Foundation includes three schools in the London area for a three-year support.

Pupils are identified by school staff as the most at risk of exclusion or educational disengagement. They then participate in a rugby and life development programme that is healthy, fun, challenging and enriching – to improve attendance and behaviour at school. Clear individual goals are set out in consultation with pupils and their schools in terms of attendance, academic achievement and behaviour.

The programme also features rewards such as trips, matches and training kit in order to reinforce positive behaviour and foster a strong team identity.

In the third and final year, School of Hard Knocks brings in their adult delivery staff to support onward career progression, college applications and CV building.


The particular project focuses on three cohorts of students from three schools, aged 13 to 16 years, 30% with a special educational need or other ‘invisible’ special need, all in urban school but at-risk of permanent exclusion.

The schools have been selected in areas of high deprivation, according to the Multiple Indices of Social Deprivation.

SOL’s contribution

With the support of The SOL Foundation, School of Hard Knocks will be able to continue their work in London schools; the partnership foresees to assist with three cohorts of students for three years of the programme.

Project partner

School of Hard Knocks is a registered grassroots community-based organisation which runs courses throughout the UK, changing the lives of children and adults using rugby, boxing and strongman courses, supported by a curriculum of powerful life lessons; they work with unemployed adults to help them find and sustain employment; and with school children at risk of exclusion to help them reengage with education.