- Support offered to pupils while they are still in education
- Participating clubs teach pupils in the classroom and on the playing field with positive results
An education and employability programme is using sport to help build the resilience of vulnerable young people so that they don't choose a life of crime and violence.
The HITZ programme draws on the core values of rugby in particular to engage young people who need support to stay at school or those not in education, employment or training.
Over the past decade, the programme has taught thousands of young people about teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship. It is delivered nationally through 13 Premiership Rugby member clubs and is funded by Comic Relief, Land Rover and children's charity Wooden Spoon.
The programme is split into two age ranges: HITZ on Track works with 14- to 16-year-olds with high risk factors such as emotional and behavioural challenges or special educational needs; while the Learning Academy works with those aged 16 to 23 to gain skills and experience to help them back into education or find employment.
Groups it works with include those vulnerable to being exploited by gangs, such as care leavers and young sheltered housing residents, as well as young people in or leaving a gang, those known to the police or newly released from a young offender institute.
Professional rugby club London Irish has worked with a number of young people from the Reading area involved in gangs over the past three years.
"Whatever is happening in London will have an effect here," says Ainsley Campbell, the club's HITZ officer. "It's just a little bit later, but we are seeing gangs and violent crime in the Reading area."
He says a recent referral of a 15-year-old involved with a gang has come through the club's involvement with local schools as part of HITZ on Track.
Referrals are also made from education advisers at local colleges, job centres, youth offending teams and social workers.
"A lot of it is word of mouth," he says. "We've just met with the police borough commander for Reading who wants us to get involved with the neighbourhood teams to help promote us."
He runs classroom-based sessions alongside a full-time tutor, which allows pupils to work towards qualifications in English and maths, employability skills and a newly added gym instructing course. Sessions run for between four months up to a year, and are tailored to individual's needs.
Rugby matches and training are held regularly but Campbell says, unlike other clubs, London Irish focuses more on the ethos and values than playing the game itself.
"We've set up an inclusion team, so most of our pupils go one day a week and train with each other and play against teams from other clubs.
"But we aim to teach them that in rugby it's not always going to go your way. You are going to get tackled, you are going to feel pain, but you have to learn how to adapt and get back up," he says.
Many of Campbell's pupils have never played rugby, so he uses games in the classroom to engage them. For example, in a maths lesson, he asks them to count how many passes were completed or how many tackles made.
"We go to watch a lot of games, which starts to build their interest and to see there is a lot more to rugby than they might have previously thought," he explains.
Together with the club's professional players - many of whom are involved with HITZ and are keen to act as role models - Campbell strives to steer pupils away from their former lives.
"A lot of these young people in gangs are very clever - many of them have good leadership and business sense because of what they are selling," he says.
"We aim to show them there is more to life than being in a gang and how they can use their skills in a different way.
"Because they are still so young, once you get them out they don't want to go back - they've seen another life."
HITZ has worked with more than 15,000 disadvantaged and vulnerable young people across the UK.
Of the 84 per cent of participants who complete the programme, 85 per cent report improved personal, social and physical wellbeing.
Meanwhile, four out of five young people have progressed on to education, training or employment since the HITZ Learning Academy was set up in 2008.