“I want to fight at the Olympics,” says 14-year-old Mark Nunn, as he throws off his blazer and begins sparring with a suspended tennis ball in the school’s dedicated boxing gym.
This fighting talk demonstrates the success of Sweet Science, a non-contact boxing club which has been running at Burlington Danes Academy in White City for the last eight years.
Owner and chief coach Leroy Nicholas, 44, said people thought he was mad to introduce an aggressive sport into the hotbed of hormones that is London high schools.
“Most people don’t look at boxing long enough,” explains Leroy. “To be a decent boxer, you need to remain calm and have self-control, which a lot of people look past.”
What started as sessions in PE lessons has branched out to lunchtime and after-school clubs.
For the last few years, Leroy, a former amateur boxer from South Ruislip, has been working with Burlington Danes’ most challenging students who are at risk of exclusion, using the school’s pupil premiums, additional government funding paid to schools to raise the attainment of disadvantaged children.
And it has paid off.
The boxing club not only gives certain students a reason to come to school each day, but has knock-on effects in the rest of their classes. One troubled girl wanted to quit school before her GCSEs, Leroy invited her to the club and now she’s studying for her A-levels.
The club has been supported by PE teacher and vice principal Matt Jerred.
He said: “The key reason we have continued our work with Sweet Science is the quality of coaching and delivery, combined with the relentless focus on discipline and character development which underpins every sessions.
“We were proud to show off Sweet Science's boxing sessions in our recent Outstanding Ofsted inspection under the new framework.”
Sweet Science sprung into action at a state school in Haringey in 2005, its second venture was at a private preparatory school in Northwood and it now runs at hundreds of schools up and down the country.
Leroy left his career as a personal trainer to use boxing to empower unruly teenagers and combat the threat of gangs.
“I had two daughters and I realised how many kids were stabbing each other,” he said.
“I thought there’s something more worthwhile trying to help get kids out of gang culture and into the ring.
“People who carry knives are proper cowards; they’re too scared to fight without a weapon. I want to help kids from going down that road.”
The atmosphere at Burlington Danes is supportive and inclusive with kids of all shapes, sizes - and sex - pulling on their gloves as they practice in their scruffy uniforms.
The boxing gym is kitted out with treadmills, weights and of course a full size ring, the high quality reflecting how keen the school is to invest in this club. There are no physical fights, the sessions are primarily about fitness and practising techniques on punch bags and against the coach wearing hand pads.
Sweet Science is also nurturing a new generation of women boxers, inspired by Nicola Adam’s Olympic gold medal at London 2012.
Yassmine Al-Amrie is a pocket rocket. The 12-year-old girl punches harder and faster than many of the older students, including most of the boys, and has hopes of taking the sport further.
She also embodies everything Sweet Science and Burlington Danes hope the sport would foster in their students: ambition, confidence and dedication.
“You need a lot of energy to be good,” says Yassmine. “And a lot of confidence. Having the ability to know what you want to do and having a clear mind.
“My dad is very supportive. He likes to know that even though I’m a girl, I can protect myself and play. My mum is supportive but she doesn’t want me to come home with a black eye.
“Leroy is unbelievable. He’s one of those friendly faces, you want to show him you can do the best you can. He wants you to succeed, not just for the school but for yourself.”
The school also uses rugby as a vehicle to drive up success in its pupils.
Head of PE, Dan Gooch said: “Rugby is another massive vehicle here at Burlington Danes. We’re not a traditional rugby school, we chose it to foster good character traits in our students. It promotes communication, team work, empathy and sportsmanship.
“We’re building momentum with these sports and it shows how you can reach out to kids. It has noticeably improved their engagement in school.”
The club is getting a name for itself with ambassadors including Anthony Joshua, another London 2012 gold medal winner from Watford, and Sugar Ray Leonard, an American boxer from the 1970s.
“I believe boxing can make the world a better place,” says Leroy. “The kids love it, they eat it up.
“Karate and judo are physical and aggressive sports and yet they are still seen as serene and really calm. Boxing is still seen as thuggery. Anyone can get in ring and just fight but that’s not boxing.
“Boxing is about self-control, discipline and hard work - all the important things we’re trying to teach our kids.
“You can’t lose control in the ring, you’ll lose your game plan and you will lose.”
Visit www.sweetscience-fitness.co.uk for more information.