Delivering Lexonik in a Secure Children’s Home

Kate jones

At Lexonik we believe no one should be limited because they can’t read. This extends to beyond schools, we’re ready to go wherever we’re needed to improve literacy outcomes. This is something Lexonik Quality Assurance & Delivery Senior Manager Kate Jones put in to practice when she arrived at a secure children’s home to deliver Lexonik interventions. Read about Kate’s experiences directly from her and all she learned from putting her principles into practice.

Approaching the gates of the Secure Children’s Home, I had little knowledge of what was on the other side. I knew it was a place for young offenders, and I have taught boys like ‘that’ before so I thought I could handle anything, any background, any behaviour, and I thought I’d experienced enough safeguarding issues to thicken the thickest of skins! An outsider, there to deliver Lexonik Leap training to the staff, with no idea of what I was about to experience.

The training was successful, no different to many of the training days that I’ve delivered before. The staff were a lively bunch. We laughed, we all learnt new things, one of the best things about this role is that there is always something new to learn, and at the end of the training my colleague and I were offered a tour of the residential unit.

I was consumed with curiosity. I don’t know what I was expecting but I was very aware of the noise coming from an area where the boys were having a Christmas quiz. So much camaraderie and laughing without any of that ‘gang mentality’ that I imagined there would be. I think I’ve been watching too many prison dramas on tv!

And then, we met ‘Jay’.

Picture this, a 6’5”, 17-year-old lad with a strong local accent. At first glance, I’ll be honest, I was quite intimidated. When he approached us with a huge smile and a warm ‘hello,’ I quickly realised that he was more a gentle giant than he was frightening, and I was drawn in by his warmth and friendliness. I wasn’t interested in any crime he may have committed, and I didn’t ask why he was there. I just asked, ‘so, has this place changed you for the better then?’

Abruptly he said ‘Yeah course it has.’ Had I asked the wrong thing? Had I done the usual tactic of engaging my mouth before my brain? But he softly added, ‘my dad died when I was younger, then my grandad died too.’ Cue a sharp intake of breath and the mum inside me wanting to reach out and hug him, but ‘Jay’ wasn’t a bit fazed by what he was saying. He continued to talk openly about how he had never had time to grieve for his father and that he was broken when his grandfather passed away shortly after. This, by his own admission, led to a phase in his life that he could only describe as being ‘really angry.’ He hated everyone and everything and his way of dealing with that grief was to lash out, which led to him committing a serious enough crime to be sent 100 miles away from home and locked up for a while.

I was genuinely choked up by what he said. What astonished me the most was that he was able to pinpoint and acknowledge exactly what had led him to committing a crime, and that his time on the inside had been exactly what he’d needed. He’d been given the time, headspace, and professional help so that he could learn to deal with the loss of arguably the two biggest role models in a young boy’s life.

As we parted company, I offered him a fist pump (what with me being down wiv da kidz) he said, ‘we don't do hands we do hugs,’ and he put his arm around my shoulder to give me a hug. ‘Jay’ is first and foremost human. His crime did not define him.

I learnt a lot from that brief encounter. These children had faced circumstances that meant they were almost destined for a life of crime. Many of them have been in care; many cannot read or are illiterate. They’ve been moved from school to school following numerous exclusions, some have experienced grief on a colossal level and as we know with grief comes anger.

This does not excuse the crimes that have been committed and that’s not how I intend this to read, but there must be something that can break that chain of poorly educated children and criminal behaviour. Surely, if we get their education right, they will be less inclined to involve themselves in further crime.

Is the answer to teach them to read? Maybe not, but why not give them the tools to do so and find out! Let’s help them navigate life confidently before the inevitable happens! Isn’t that the easy solution?

When lessons start at 9:00am, one thing I notice are the varied behaviours. There is a boy with hair stuck up (a self-proclaimed ‘bog brush’) and still in sleep mode, while another couldn’t settle because his ADHD medication hadn't kicked in yet. Others were subdued because of their medication, and many lacked the motivation to engage. There is often two or three staff in each room, some other students may refuse to speak, others may talk incessantly. It was incredible to observe. Not one of the staff was flustered. They just remained calm until everything fell into place.

On my subsequent visit only three weeks later, I observed staff delivering Lexonik Leap, our phonics programme, once again. I was astounded by the increased level of engagement from the boys. I mean, who at age 16 wants to learn phonics? This is something that they should have learned in their early years, and no doubt they’ve got more important things to think about.

The staff were amazing though. There was some resistance from the boys of course, but once they realised that they needed this life changing skill, they improved day after day in every session. When I saw their levels of engagement, reading out letter sounds confidently and with a sense of humour, it melted my heart a little. It felt like we were really starting to make a difference.

This got me to thinking; if we want to make a bigger difference, maybe we need to change the narrative! Maybe we need to understand the system more, or the learners come to think of it. Before my first visit (before I met ‘Jay’ that is) I just assumed these were bad kids, but after every visit I realise more and more that they have such complex needs. Some are severely impacted by trauma in the form of domestic abuse, violence, grief, physical abuse, sexual abuse, crime, growing up in care.

Their identities are multifaceted, and the crime they’ve committed is just one part of that identity that should not define them.

Of course, they are stubborn, angry, and often brash on the outside but when you dig deeper you see some very traumatised, rejected children who need nurturing and educating whilst being given a sense of belonging. The boys I had the privilege of spending time with still had strong values, they loved their nearest and dearest, they just didn’t love themselves.

Again, maybe teaching them to read fluently and with purpose isn’t the answer to their complex existence, but a good education is a vehicle for change. The hard work that goes into providing for these young boys, and I’m not just talking educationally, but in providing wrap around care to create mentally strong, articulate, caring individuals, is incredible to witness and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey that takes time.

When I saw ‘Jay’ on his last day at the Secure Children's Home, he was sat waiting for his mum to collect him. His release day had finally come. As he always did, he hugged me, told me about his imminent college interview and told me to take care, while I struggled to hold it together. Surprisingly, I felt incredibly proud of this young man who I barely knew. Yes, he had committed a crime, but he had changed for the better and had dealt with his grief. He'd found closure. I wanted to hug him tighter and give him a heartfelt ‘don't do it again’ talk, but words failed me. Instead, I quietly said ‘look after your mum and make her proud,’ before walking away with a sense of optimism.

I hugged my own children a little bit tighter that night!

If you want to see Lexonik programmes in action in your school, college, secure home or anything else, get in touch here. Kate is just one of our dedicated staff ready to train your teachers in our interventions, so you can improve literacy outcomes and ensure that nobody is limited because they can’t read.