Education & Family

Everton FC: The football club that teaches troubled children

Pupils at Everton Free School
Image caption Everton Free School is the first school run by a Premier League club

Everton Free School is the first school run by a Premier League football club, taking on students who have not been able to stay in mainstream education. The Victoria Derbyshire programme has been given exclusive access to the school.

Life for Liam, aged 15, hasn't been easy.

Liam, whose full name we have not used, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism, and witnessed domestic violence while growing up.

His own mental health has also been a worry, and he has been the target of bullies. All of this had a big impact on his time at school, and by the time he was entering his teens, options for his education were running out.

"It was very anxious for me as a parent, to know you had to be at work all day and your son was somewhere he hated being," says his mother Laura.

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Media captionLiam's mum says he was quite suicidal before he started at Everton Free School

"I'd worry all day. Is he going to get hit? Are they going to be waiting for him after school?"

It was a dark time for Liam, and meant his progress was slipping. He wasn't turning up to class, and when he did, he'd get into fights.

"It was hard to get the work done. I'd always need the one-on-one. It would always be so hard to complete a task," he says.

Three years ago, Laura was told about Everton Free School - the only school run by a Premier League football club. For lifelong fan Liam, it seemed like a real opportunity.

Image caption A class is held at a corporate box at Everton's Goodison Park

The school has 120 students and teaches English, maths and science as core GCSEs, as well as a range of more practical subjects aimed at getting the students jobs when they finish.

But all of them have special needs of some kind - behavioural problems, issues at home and some with drugs and crime.

Chloe, who is also 15, had serious behavioural problems.

"I got kicked out. I was naughty, and used to do nothing in school and used to argue with all the teachers. I used to fight," she remembers. "People used to go around carrying knives and that. And if they'd get into a fight they'd stab them."

'Hardest decision'

Laura was in two minds about sending Liam into a school where students had such problems.

"Definitely without a doubt, it was the hardest decision I've ever had to make," she says. "Am I throwing my child from the furnace into the fire? I really had to think hard about it."

Image caption The school has 120 students and teaches English, maths and science as core GCSEs

And it's not cheap.

At £14,500 a year per pupil, it is three times the cost of a mainstream school - a bill picked up by the taxpayer.

I ask Richard Cronin, the school's executive principal, if it is just a way of rewarding difficult kids.

He says there is a "really high correlation" between young people not being engaged in the education system and being involved in crime.

"We are engaging them. That's got to be beneficial to everybody," he says.

Most would have had a 5-10% attendance. This school aims to get them up above 80%.

England star

One of the perks of being associated with Everton - for fans like Liam anyway - is meeting the players when they come and visit the school.

England and Everton defender Phil Jagielka came to join a science lesson.

Image caption Joe posing for a photograph with Phil Jagielka

"A few of them want to speak to you," the footballer says.

"A few of them want to give you a little bit of banter - there are a couple of Liverpool fans in here and all sorts, so they refuse to write the word blue down for instance.

"I've been here for a long time now and I've met some fantastic characters, some great people.

"If you give these kids a chance to open up and talk, more often than not, you know you've had a great day. These are going to be young men and women in a couple of years and if we can give them a decent foothold then that's what's important."

'Proud'

Liam beams as he meets his team's captain, wearing the Everton kit. He's now doing extra maths and is working towards a qualification in coaching football.

"As a fan it makes you proud. The crest on your chest every day. It's what you want really."

The Everton brand - and its profile and money - is a big bonus for this school.

But in wearing the kit and being associated with its name, the students gain something more important: respect.

And it is changing their lives.

Watch the Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.