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Alternative Academy Programme

The Alternative Academy is an innovative 12 week ‘extreme’ sports-based education programme aimed at reengaging young people (15-18 years old) who are currently, or at risk of becoming, disengaged from traditional forms of education.

During the 12 week, full time programme of activities, approx 50% of which are sport, participants develop their confidence, motivation and life skills, and are supported in moving on to a positive destination as well as healthy and active lives. Seven Academy programmes have been delivered over the last two years, engaging over 90 young people from the Aberdeen City and Shire area.

***PAHA Award Winner 2012***

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How It Started

The Alternative Academy programme was developed to meet a perceived lack of opportunities for young people currently, or at risk of becoming, disengaged from traditional forms of education. A new approach was required to reengage these young people, and sport was seen as an appropriate catalyst for reengagement.

Transition Extreme’s adrenaline sports (i.e., climbing, BMX and skateboarding) were seen as an excellent way of reengaging young people with education and personal development, whilst also providing participants with sporting activities and support to assist them in leading positive and physically active lives.

Partners Involved

Transition Extreme Sports Ltd and Robert Gordon University were the two main delivery partners involved in the project, both contributing to the Knowledge Tranfer Partnership (KTP) and being represented by the KTP Associate.

An advisory group was set up at the start of the project to assist in shaping the project. It included The Robertson Trust as the initial key funder, as well as representation from local education authorities and other 3rd sector partners. Additional funders contributing to the project included Aberdeen City Council & Aberdeenshire Council (contributing through the Fairer Scotland Fund), NHS Grampian (through the Health Improvement Fund), Petrofac Ltd, and the Garfield Weston Foundation.

A range of partners throughout the region have been involved in delivery of certain modules during the project, including Aberdeen College, Aberdeen Foyer, Station House Media Unit, Skills Development Scotland, Aberdeen Council for Voluntary, RGU Sport, NHS Grampian, Drugs Action, and Choices Aberdeen.


Transition Extreme formed a partnership with the School of Health Sciences at Robert Gordon University, and together they were successful in applying for a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). This provided them with a full time member of staff (a KTP Associate) dedicated to developing, managing and evaluating the programme over a two year period.

During this time, a robust, dynamic and flexible delivery model was developed, providing various Alternative Academy formats, including full time, part time and ‘mobile’ versions aimed at meeting the varying needs of young people.

The project aimed to use sport as the key mechanism for reengaging young people with education, as well as increasing their physical activity and providing them with the skills, knowledge and motivation with which they can continue to lead a healthy and active life and move on to a positive destination (i.e., education, employment, training or voluntary work).

The Alternative Academy took place at Transition Extreme’s modern extreme sport centre in Aberdeen, and was delivered through four core modules. Sport 1 saw participants choose one of Transition Extreme’s sports (i.e., climbing, BMX or skateboarding) and receive at least 5 coached sessions per week in this sport, with the aim of them progressing on to a high level of competency and ideally coaching their peers. Sport 2 saw participants receive a taster session for a range of additional activities, including football, gym sessions, outdoor adventure activities and exercise classes, with the aim of participants finding an activity they would continue to participate in later in life.

The My Future module was broken down into 2 areas. One component focussed on developing participants employability skills, whereas the other component had a focus on personal exploration and development. This latter module included elements exploring the benefits of regular physical activity, healthy eating and nutrition workshops, and sessions exploring issues associated with the use of drugs, alcohol and smoking.

Different models of delivery were used depending on the specific needs of the young people for instance, the full time programme was potentially too challenging a commitment for some young people who had been disengaged from education for a lengthy period. As such a part-time version of the programme was developed and delivered to meet the needs of these young people, and to provide them with a stepping stone to the full time programme. Similarly, a ‘mobile’ version of the programme was delivered for particularly disengaged young people in Peterhead, with elements being delivered at Transition Extreme as well as within the local community in Peterhead

Results and Impact

The Alternative Academy has provided alternative education and training for 86 young people over the last 2 years, with an estimated 90% of graduates moving on to a positive destination from the programme.

Evaluations of the programme have shown clear improvements in health and wellbeing amongst participants. Participants have demonstrated increased confidence and motivation during and after the programme, with this being measured both quantitatively and qualitatively, as well as being observed by staff, peers and family members.

With participants engaging in up to 11 hours of physical activity and sport each week, their fitness levels increased measurably during the programme.

One of the greatest successes of the programme is providing participants with the opportunity to try out a range of new sports, and evaluations suggest that most participants continue taking part in one of the sports even 2 years after they have completed the programme. Some of the participants have also moved on to increase their participation in sport, with 3 studying sport courses at college and one being chosen as a Young Leader for the 2012 London Olympics programme.

Lessons Learned

The Alternative Academy programmes have demonstrated the opportunities for alternative and adrenaline sports to reengage young people, and the power of these sports as a catalyst for change in their lives. The programmes to date have also highlighted that these sports are a powerful mechanism for assisting participants to increase their health and wellbeing, as well as their participation in sport and physical activity.

The programme has also led to increased and successful partnership working between RGU/Transition Extreme and a range of providers to provide a robust and dynamic learning experience for participants, as well as incorporating extreme sports into similar programmes provided by other agencies.

There have been difficulties encountered as part of the development of the programme. The Alternative Academy is designed for young people who are currently, or at risk of becoming, disengaged from education, and their reasons for disengagement can vary. As a result, some participants have come in to the programme with some behavioural issues, and despite the best efforts of staff to work on some of these issues there were occasions in which some participants were asked to leave the programme. These experiences led to the development of a more robust and clear recruitment process, leading to increased levels of programme completion.

What's next for the project?

Due to the success of the programme to date, and the flexibility of the delivery model (i.e., full time, part time and mobile) the programme has gained a lot of interest. Discussions are in place with Aberdeenshire Council to explore expanding the provision of the mobile version of the programme throughout the region, and support from corporate organisations and charitable funds – as well as contributions from Transition Extreme – will provide continued Aberdeen-based programmes.

In terms of sustainability for the future, investigations are underway into exploring the potential for the programme to be funded by mainstream education.

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Lead Contact Name

Bryan McCann


Sport and Exercise Science Lecturer


Robert Gordon University / Transition Extreme Sports Ltd


Garthdee Road, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire AB10 7GE

Phone Number

01224 262978

Email Address


Garthdee Road Aberdeen Aberdeenshire AB10 7GE

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