Special report: Life at 'the last chance school' in Sussex

Special report: Life at 'the last chance school' in Sussex

Special report: Life at 'the last chance school' in Sussex

First published in News by , Reporter

Most of the pupils at Muntham House have been expelled or excluded for disruption or violence from four previous schools.

The vast majority of the students have emotional and social difficulties and have been diagnosed with either ADHD or autism.

While the majority of the 56 pupils who study at the school have been well supported by their families, a couple of the boys have been subjected to abuse and neglect.

Muntham House is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and dedicated teachers, led by charismatic principal Richard Boyle, are committed to finding a way to inspire each boy to turn his life around.

Nowit is going to be the subject of a Channel 4 documentary called The Last Chance School, after a film crew spent a year following three of the school’s most challenging characters.

Mr Boyle, who has been headteacher at Muntham House School since 1999 having starting as a history and special needs teacher, said: “We don’t really deal with the acronyms or titles here – we have 56 students, 56 individuals and that’s it.”

He dismissed the idea the school is the toughest in the country, labelling it “a piece of cake”.

Mr Boyle added: “Potentially it could be tough.

“We get students here that, put in a normal school, would probably wreck the place.

“The myth that needs to be dispelled is that these boys are from bad backgrounds.

“They come from a variety of different backgrounds, many of them with supportive families that have done all they can, but their child is causing problems in a mainstream school.

“Ninety-nine per cent of the time you’ll walk around here, scratch your head and wonder what the problem is but it is an interesting place to be – it turns very rowdy, very quickly.

“But even if they chuck a paddy, they knowthey’re going to be looked after and not thrown out the door.

“You have to be tough, I’m not saying it’s easy.”

The school runs just like any other, except there are no more than eight students in a classroom and additional care workers, teaching assistants and therapists.

The Argus met two students – Ryan Mabbs, 16, and nine-year-old Junayd Snow.

Ryan is no stranger to new schools, having been expelled from seven previously, most recently for punching his headteacher.

He is in his second year at Muntham House and teachers are still looking for ways to help him manage his behaviour.

He finds it almost impossible to concentrate in class and is often disruptive.

But Ryan does have a natural ability and patience with horses and has set his heart on becoming a jockey.

He has secured an interview for work experience at the local Gary Moore Racing Stables but the youngster knows he must learn to control his temper if he wants to get his dream job.

He said: “I love it here, it’s much better than my old schools where I would get frustrated.

“I used to be able to get away with things at my other schools but I can’t get away with the same things here.

“There are a lot more facilities here.”

Ryan, talking about being filmed as part of the upcoming documentary, said: “It was really good.

“They said they wanted to film me and I told them I was absolutely fine with it all.

“At first I thought it was a bit strange, but I got used to it.

“They asked me if it was OK for them to film me playing football and I said that was fine. The only place I wouldn’t let them film me was down in the therapy rooms because that’s private.

“I’ve seen the film and I can’t wait for it to come out – it’s really good and quite inspirational really.

“I can’t wait for everyone to see it.

“The only thing I don’t like about the documentary is the amount of swearing by the pupils but that sort of thing does go on.”

Junayd is a newarrival and one of the youngest boys at the school.

He finds it hard to make friends and has a big problem with authority, often lashing out in class and refusing to work.

The keen footballer prefers to spend time alone in his room but after months of isolating himself, a natural talent on the football field and a passion for comics has helped himto begin to comeout of his shell.

Junayd, whose favourite subject is science, said he enjoyed being the subject of the documentary.

He added: “They just followed me around and at first it was a bit odd but then after a while it wasn’t too bad. The film crew were in the school for about a year and they ended up filming us playing football and in class.

“I like this school because they look after you. They help you.”

Mr Boyle hopes the documentary can showthe general public the boys at his school, aged between eight and 20, are not trouble-makers.

He said: “We wouldn’t take on those that aren’t interested or delinquents.

“There’s a big difference between delinquents and kids like ours.

“Our boys just do not fit in a mainstream school.

“We pay little credence to titles such as ADHD – we study them and we understand them but we tend to say this is little Johnny and this is how he is and how he works.

“Our children have innate problems.

It’s a disability, you just don’t see the wheelchair.”

“And it’s very difficult for the general public to tell the difference.”

The documentary is due to be aired later this year, and having seen the final cut, Mr Boyle is happy with the outcome.

He said: “It’s a really good, honest piece and although it’s a bit hairy in places, it shows the school realistically.

Our kids tend to get the rough end of the stick, they’re not understood.

“It’s a very moving and poignant film but there’s also great moments when you witness a kid just get it.

“These kids get the fact that they’re safe and that we want the best for them.

“I’ve yet to meet a kid who doesn’t want to learn or doesn’t want to improve.”

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