With no qualifications and few friends when he left secondary school, James escaped by spending time on video games, until Premiership Rugby’s HITZ programme at Harlequins introduced him to a new world of possibilities.
James was told about the programme by Achieving for Children after he had struggled both academically and socially at school. His Autism and ADHD along with other learning challenges contributed to this and resulted in low levels of self-belief and self-confidence. This meant he was incredibly quiet at the start of the programme and on occasions came across as ‘disinterested’.
James explains. “I didn’t mind doing it and I thought it would be a good experience, but I was nervous coming into a new place. It was a good choice to join HITZ as it was a small group so not too daunting, but it was friendlier than my school environment, so I got to meet new people.”
HITZ is Premiership Rugby’s flagship education and employability programme, working with over 2,000 14-to-23-year-olds across England every year with the support of the CVC Foundation and Wooden Spoon, and is delivered with official education partner SCL Education Group. Delivered by 13 Premiership Rugby shareholder clubs, the programme uses the power of community alongside rugby’s core values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline, and sportsmanship, to support young people not in education, employment, or training (NEET) back into education, training, apprenticeships and/or employment.
James is just one inspirational young person we will be celebrating during round 21 of Gallagher Premiership Rugby (25-27 March). All matches during this weekend will be dedicated to the award-winning community programmes we run. These benefit more than 250k people across the UK every year and we will be shining the spotlight on some of the individuals supported to celebrate their stories.
James remained quiet during his first year on HITZ, however he gave his coaches and peers glimmers of the young man he could become. He had previously expressed his concerns about what he would do in the future and lacked any direction. With the development of friendships with his fellow participants on the programme, James was motivated to complete his BTEC Level 1 in Sport and his Functional Skills Level 1 exams. However, the most valuable development was still to come.
After requiring persuasion to sign up for a second year James was sent a curve ball with the pandemic forcing the programme to be delivered via virtual learning. In what was feared would be a detrimental backwards step for James with risk of his social skills diminishing, by being forced to learn in front of a screen, he surprised the team.
HITZ Tutor Graham Pearce says, “We were proved wrong! Virtual learning ended up being the making of James. He grew in confidence within the group by working from a safe space. We witnessed him answering questions with a conviction we’d never seen before. Not only that but he signed up to the virtual workouts allowing him to feel the physical benefits and with improved fitness came an improved mood.
“Most exciting for us was that James maintained his confidence when he returned to the classroom, culminating in him taking on leadership roles within the group.”
Natalie Sexton, HITZ Officer at the Harlequins Foundation added, “When James first started, he never spoke other than a few words when asked a direct question. As he became more familiar with the class, he would make more effort. He would laugh and joke despite being out of his comfort zone. This development was fantastic to see and by doing it in stages I’m sure he’ll keep on progressing.”
With a happier outlook and his confidence increasing James passed both his GCSE Maths and English and is now at college studying Public Services hoping to pursue his particular interest in the Fire and Police services.
When asked how he felt about the programme James said, “I would definitely recommend HITZ, give it a try – I’m 100% sure you’ll like it!”
Wayne Morris, Community & Corporate Social Responsibility Director at Premiership Rugby, said: “We’re delighted that James has both qualifications and a direction for his future after completing his time on the HITZ programme. A traditional school environment doesn’t always suit every young person. We’re incredibly proud of our HITZ team which ensure we deliver a unique learning space which supports and nurtures our participants as individuals. James’ story is proof that the programme works.”
Since its inception in 2008 the HITZ programme has helped over 20,000 14–23-year-olds like James with 75% completing the HITZ learning academy. A huge 80% of participants have expressed improvements in life skills such as confidence and resilience. It is these newfound skills that help 80% of the participants who complete the programme to go straight on to education, employment, or training.