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A group of young people excluded from mainstream education were rewarded for their efforts in completing an innovative rugby-based programme with a graduation ceremony at Twickenham Stadium, the home of England rugby.

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Rugby is a contact sport which has a proven track record of helping young children manage their aggression, increase their aspirations and effort, and modify their behaviour for their own benefit and that of the communities from which they are drawn.
Jason Leonard OBE, Lead Ambassador for Wooden Spoon and England's most capped rugby union player

Both girls and boys aged 13-15 from The Complementary Education Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) in Cromwell, Northamptonshire, took part in the FairPlay programme, a partnership between children's charity Wooden Spoon, Barclays Spaces for Sports, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Enterprise Education Trust.

As well as a tour of the stadium when they received their FairPlay certificates, the youngsters were also joined by former England coach and Wooden Spoon ambassador Dick Best.

They are among hundreds of young people across England who will benefit from the intensive eight-week programme delivered over two years, combining rugby drills and coaching from RFU community coaches with classroom sessions that provide academic credits to build towards formal qualifications.  As well as funding the scheme through its Spaces for Sports programme, Barclays is also supporting training in how these young people can manage their finances as part of the Barclays Money Skills initiative.

Organisers hope FairPlay will help many of the teenagers improve their prospects by returning to mainstream education, entering training programmes or securing employment. A key element of the programme is to build self-esteem and confidence among those taking part.

Oliver Joisce, a Community Rugby Coach for the RFU who delivered this project, said: “The biggest change we’ve seen has been their self-confidence, and their ability to work with others in a team. They are vulnerable kids who did not reach out well to each other and were very defensive when we first met them.

“But now they get on well with each other. One of them has already expressed interest in joining a club. Another has joined Rushden & Higham rugby club where he previously played a bit as a child.  Already he’s getting on much better with people, including his own family.”

More than 30 FairPlay projects across England have been established so far. Many of the youngsters targeted have some of the poorest rates of educational attainment and future employment as well as some of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse and long term unemployment.

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