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Young offenders , school and learning Martin Hugo S enior Lecturer in Pedagogy

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Young offenders , school and learning Martin Hugo S enior Lecturer in Pedagogy Malmö - Friday September 27 th. Approximately  1000 individuals, aged 11 to 20, are annually committed to SiS Rehabilitation Institutions designated for young offenders in Sweden

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Young offenders, schooland learning

Martin Hugo

Senior Lecturer in Pedagogy

Malmö - Friday September 27th


Approximately 1000 individuals, aged 11 to 20, are annually committed to SiS Rehabilitation Institutions designated for young offenders in Sweden

  • There are 25 institutions in Sweden of that kind
  • 2/3 are boys, 1/3 are girls
  • Nearly all of them have failed at school before in the Swedish school system
  • Rehabilitation work also includes school and education-related activities
  • 91% of these youngsters are going to school every week

One of the aims of this study was to understand how these young individuals experience school, their motivation for studying and possible future goals in terms of learning

  • The research was based on a phenomenological worldview. Within this framework the notion of Life Worlds was of significant importance.

The life-world researcher has to be in the place where the experiences, the opinions and the doings are materialized in real situations where the researcher participates in the activity that is done and then even in a natural way in the speeches. By using natural speeches in the research the possibility is diminished of beeing put in a situation that discourse analysts have pointed to: that the interview creates its own social reality which is not reaching outside the interview situation (Bengtsson, 1999, p. 37).


Eight groups of pupils and their teachers were observed by a researcher for a period of three years.

Data collection methods used in this study are:

  • Close observation in school activities
  • Casual conversation
  • 49 Research interviews

Van Manen(1990) – Researching Lived Experience:

  • Close observation involves an attitude of assuming a relation that is as close as possible while retaining a hermeneutic alertness to situations that allows us to constantly step back and reflect on the meaning of those situations (p. 69).
  • The method of close observation requires that one be a participant and an observer at the same time. (p. 69).

As I and Natasha arrive in the morning the ward is in chaos. Therehavebeentwosuicideattempts. One girl has swallowed a razorblade and another has gulped a bottle of bleach. Bothgirlssurvived the attempts and are doingreasonablywell after havingreceived intensive care at hospital. Weparticipated in a crisisstaffmeetingfocussing on the ward situation. Everypupil’s situation is scrutinised. Apart from the twosuicideattemptstherehavebeenmanyconflicts and two of the othergirlsrefuse to get out of bed.

As weenter the commonroom of the wardweranintoone of the girls returnig from the hospital. She looks knackered and apprehensive. She is sitting in front of the telly, next to one of the orderlies, withoutlooking up. On ourcontinuedwaytowards the schoolroomwe pass the exerciseroom. ”Hello Martin … how are things today?” someonecallsout. It is Emmiesweating it out on a stationaryexercisebike. I stop for a moment to exchange a fewwords with her; to ask howshe is. Shethentellsme:

Martin!…. XXXX’s Hospital seems to be a popular place to visit right now … XXXX has swallowed a razorblade and XXXX has drunksomethingnasty … Fuck, this place is horrible … I just want to get out of here.


This will be great (Teacher)

  • Hell, yeah! (Pupil)
  • You’re soon done with the course (Teacher)
  • What bloody course?! … there can’t be courses for this! (Pupil)
  • Of course there is … See! … (Teacher shows the syllabus)
  • Oh shit! … I had no idea (Pupil)
  • You are almost done with the entire course in casting (Teacher)

- Are you serious?! (Pupil)


Many of them have a dark and negative feeling about school and teachers. Experiences of meaninglessness are frequent among participants. Whatever the school was all about, it was simply not intended for them.

  • Their negative experiences had generated negative attitudes towards school in general and everything associated with it. The accounts tell of meaninglessness, truancy, failures, incomplete grades and for many also difficulties in relating to teachers.
  • Many of the pupils think that that they are “bad pupils”. As a consequence they could not see themselves as individuals in school to learn useful stuff.

“From year one to six I went to school every day … but then I moved to XXXX for year seven and this ended in a disaster after two months. I stopped going … I had to do year seven all over again. Then I moved to … XXXX for year eight, and to my foster family. I stayed there half of year seven and all of year eight … Then I returned to XXXX to start year nine, but after two months I was sentenced to this place”

(Pupil 21)


I haveseen a different Sweden; a Sweden I didn’tknowexisted. Sometimes I wishthat I didn’tknowofitsexistence […] In thisplacetheyaretreatedwithrespect. I guesstheyhavebeenbadlytreatedbefore … in school and outsideschool […] (Karin)


I havemany a time stood by the door to greet new pupils who toldme … Just so you know, David, I hate this bloodyshit, so just don’t you try anything. And just to let you know … we are decided on this evenbefore entering the classroom. (David)


It is essential that theyacquireself-confidence and that theyunderstand that they are actuallyable to achievesomething. Theyneed a more positive outlook. Many are quitesombre after toomanypreviousfailures. Theysimplycannotbelieve that they are capable of somethingsuccessful … Self-confidence is important; to know that they are goodenough (Kerstin)


“They sort of get you … you can tell if a teacher is there to want to help you or if a teacher is just ‘present’ to do a job. You can easily tell […] At least I notice it at once, if they actually care or not … It’s important …in a place like this they have to patient like hell. Most pupils here have not been much to any school before." (Pupil 5)


“The best thing is that the teacher … she is not at this ward … when you come here you feel free somehow … It’s nice when someone new arrives and you have school to go to”

(Pupil 13)


“School is the best, I think … because it means having something to do … in the ward there is nothing … nothing …just the telly and the staff … so it is much better here” (Pupil 3)

“School is better because we can think and focus on things, and teachers allow us to listen to music … there is more going on here than on the ward … more action, you know” (Pupil 9)

“ School is great … mostly to get away from the ward … you feel so confined in the ward, but here you can move around and you get to think on other things than being locked up” (Pupil 25)


”I make music … reggae mostly … it’s fun … it makes me happy … I play the bass and the guitar, and I could not play before coming here” (Pupil 22).

“I left school with 70 merit points […] I think I have almost 200 now since coming here. The exams I took here […] they sort of gave me 100 merit points more, almost twice that which I had before. I have done a lot since coming here and I have put in lots of effort” (Pupil 15)


When I startedhere, theytoldme—being a youngwoman—that I had to be extra strict, structured and toughtowards the pupils; be veryclear on everything and decisive. And so this is what I did: I wasstrict and decisive. Structurewasprioritised and my relationship with the pupilscame second. However, I havenowlearnthow it actuallyworks … it is muchmoreimportant to create a relationship first and gaintheirconfidence, thenadd the structure. Havingestablished a relationship theywill listen and trust you (Kicki)


As a pupil is occupied with something and is reallyfocussed … not to interrupt this and disturb … I usuallysay ”is it OK for me to tell you to start working in aboutfiveminutes?” Theyoften respond ”Yes, butgiveme ten minutes” … I thengivethem this extra time. You have to. It is far too easy as a teacher to make demands and expectobedience. However, such an authoritarianattituderarelyworks.

(Teacher 17)


Manypupilsfind it difficult to focus. Theyhavepreviouslybeendiagnosed with concentrationdifficultiessuch as ADHD … So you have to work with includingdistractionsinto your strategy … small breaks or somethingelseentirely. In my experience it takes a bit of time to get thesepupilsalongwhenintroducinganother part of your teaching. Strategyusuallymeansbeingclear, allowing time and allowingdistractions – just to helppupils transfer from one task and to the next.




Youmust like them!

Teachers’ expectations will invariably impact the outcome.

Always focus on the positive.

Pupils who strongly resist school often learn both practice and theory by hands-on experience.

Pupils must experience belonging and engagement through active participation