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Ty Gwyn

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“Believing in young people/Credu mewn pobl ifanc”.

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I Wish My Teacher Knew

Former pupil shares his success story with Wales Online - Ty Gwyn made the difference!

'I was kicked out of school aged 11 and told I'd go to prison, but now I've lost four stone and turned my life around'

Branded a 'naughty boy', Ryan Davies eventually got involved in rugby and decided to 'wise up' - now he helps England rugby legend Lawrence Dallaglio to help others just like him.

Excluded from primary aged 10 and then high school aged 11, Ryan Davies was told he would go to prison and admitted he was “oblivious and scared”. His weight ballooned and he became angry and isolated, especially when his mother had to give up work to look after him.

Now 18, Ryan, from Wattstown, has said that being sent to a pupil referral unit aged 12 and learning touch rugby saved him. He lost five stone, decided to “wise up” and passed nine GCSEs with two As, six Bs and a C.

The teenager now goes back into his old PRU and others as a coach with the charity set up by England legend Lawrence Dallaglio - Dallaglio RugbyWorks (DRW). Ryan said he saw first hand the growing problems among some groups of children and that the school system wasn’t working for them. More than 60 children were excluded from schools in Wales last term and you can read about the reasons why here.

He said he understood “why people thought badly of me” and blamed it on ADHD, the loss of his grandmother, and being labelled naughty very young. The teenager admitted he was verbally abusive to teachers, bunked off lessons and acted “the class clown” and could see why he was kicked out of Ysgol Cwm Rhondda where his older sister was head girl.

But he thought teachers should do more to help children misbehaving and warned that when they branded pupils “naughty” they set them up to be just that. Excluding children when they hated school was no solution if they went home to do nothing and there needed to be more PE and sport in schools, felt Ryan. 

“I was labelled as a bad person, but I wasn’t a bad person. I had issues at school and was excluded permanently in year six. I got kicked out for being a problem but I was just trying to be the class clown and thought I was better than other people. I was sent to another Welsh medium primary, got all my grades and went to high school in good sets.”

But trouble hit again in the first year of secondary when Ryan’s paternal grandmother passed away. He was close to her and admitted he went “a bit off the rails”. “I was bunking off lessons and being verbally abusive to teachers. That led to me being put in bottom sets, when I had been in top sets.

“They were 50 minute lessons and I did the work in 25 minutes and got bored. Without tasks to focus on I was fisting and fighting and I got kicked out of high school in year seven after one term.”

Aged 11 Ryan was out of school with no teaching or work for 18 weeks. His mother had to give up her job to look after him which caused further family tension. Ryan said it hurt when one of his teachers told him he’d end up in prison. But he said he “liked” being excluded because he didn’t want to be at school. You can get more story updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletters here.

Eventually he was sent to the Ty Gwyn Education Centre PRU in Aberdare for the last few weeks of the summer term of year seven. Here, he said the staff had time to ask him what was wrong and find strategies to help and, crucially, he was put on the DRW programme there.

“I was struggling with my ADHD. Being able to run around in a RugbyWorks session as part of a team and burn off some steam helped me release some of my pent-up emotions.” He said the programme helped him develop his personal skills. The sessions taught him the importance of building relationships, respect, being part of a team and trusting others.

His confidence grew more when he took part in a DRW tournament at Pontypridd’s Sardis Road ground, playing against six other teams: “It was nice to be in a team and represent the PRU with my friends, many of whom had not played sport for a school before.” In 2021, Ryan won the Dallaglio RugbyWorks Champion Award. This made him realise “that we all have more qualities in life than we think, you’ve just got to believe in yourself”.

One continuing problem, he believed, was his ADHD, diagnosed in primary. “My brain was going at 100mph sometimes and I couldn’t sleep and if I didn’t want to sit down and do something I couldn’t make myself.” Ryan said he could relate to the children and teenagers he helped as a coach himself now. He hoped they could look at him and see there was an option to change.

“Schools need better strategies than kicking people out with no real plan in place Some kids like being excluded because they don’t want to be there. I don’ think sending young people home works. I didn’t want to be in school so I didn’t mind being excluded. I didn’t like sitting around but people have different learning needs. I wasn’t stupid.

“I realised at Ty Gwyn that I needed to wise up. I have never been an aggressive person but I was branded a “naughty boy” and I didn’t want to be that person anymore. It did work for me being kicked out of school in the end because I went to Ty Gwyn where they helped me.”

During his time with RugbyWorks, Ryan also carried on his love of golf, but his weight was holding him back. One of the DRW coaches worked with him and he lost more than four stone and went on to win the South Wales Boys U16’s Championship in 2021.

After leaving Ty Gwyn, Ryan studied for a year at Hartpury College in Gloucestershire, known for its development of rugby players, and joined DRW as a part-time coach. The teenager said he now wanted to show young people that with the right kind of help and work they could change direction, even if they had been excluded from school.

“When I go back to Ty Gwyn now as a coach with Rugby Works I see people struggling. When I look back I can see why people thought badly of me and I think a lot of bad behaviour in schools is undiagnosed ADHD and other problems. You feel like you have so much adrenalin and energy. I couldn’t sleep when my brain was going at 100mph sometimes.

“I think 100% I would be in prison if it wasn’t for RugbyWorks. But that teacher was wrong and I’m not in prison. Rugby is a great tool to engage young people with. We use it to burn off energy and make connections. I feel I am relatable as a Rugby Works coach. I have a soft spot for these young people in PRUs.”

Since launching in 2015, the charity now goes into 19 schools as well as to Parc Prison to help young people turn their lives around through rugby. In April, Ryan is joining Andrew Ridgeley from Wham!, Lawrence Dallaglio, other rugby legends, Martin Johnson and Austin Healey, taking part in the Dallaglio Cycle Slam, a bi-annual event that sees cyclists from all over the UK pedal from Rome to Nice to raise money for the charity.

Biddy Guthrie, Ryan’s maternal grandmother, couldn’t be prouder. She said that when things went wrong for Ryan as a child it all ran out of control.

“We were so worried about Ryan. I was distraught for them. He got branded as naughty but now he has proved them all wrong. I am immensely proud of him now.”

The cost of exclusion

The lifetime cost to the state of permanently excluding one young person is estimated to be £370,000, let alone the personal cost to a young person’s future prospects. Statistics show that only 54% of pupils leaving alternative provision at 16 go on into sustained education, employment or training, compared to 94% from mainstream schools.

DRW said it aimed to help some of these young people using rugby’s values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship to help equip them with life skills for education, training and jobs.