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29 April 2014

Tackling violence in schools

Tackling violence in schools

A recent investigation by Sky News has shown that children, including those at primary school, are carrying weapons in school out of fear of violence. The fatal stabbing of Leeds teacher Anne Maguire by a 15-year-old pupil at her school this week serves to show the seriousness of this problem.

The report found that 981 children have had weapons confiscated on school premises since 2011, including at least 80 primary school children.  It went on to say that 1 in 8 violent crimes involved school-aged children and that fear is a driving factor behind school children feeling they need to attend school armed.  

 Actress, anti-knife campaigner and sister of a victim of a stabbing, Brooke Kinsella said: "To bring it home to all of us, every week in England the equivalent of a whole school class, more than 20 children, turn up in hospital with stab wounds".

Urban youth charity XLP works with young people for whom the threat of violence is a daily occurrence. One young person known to the charity used to attend school wearing a bullet-proof vest. In spite of this, he was later stabbed in the neck at 3.30pm just outside his school.

XLP founder and CEO, Patrick Regan, responded: "We are sticking plasters over cracks if we think enforcement alone will solve the complex issues as to why a young person may feel the need to carry a knife into a school. We need to look seriously and honestly at the context these young people are growing up in. We need to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with the issues that are causing youth and school based violence in the first place".

Fear may not be the only reason young people carry weapons into school. Many young people are dealing with a complex range of issues including poverty, family breakdown, gang involvement and educational failure. These in turn create an environment where they face inevitable violence and the need to protect themselves.

A recent response to this issue from the Department for Education, states that teachers "can now search pupils without consent, confiscate prohibited items and use force to remove disruptive pupils from the classroom when necessary", but seemingly fails to recognise the need to address the reasons behind students carrying weapons.  

XLP believes there are no quick fix solutions but that teachers must have sufficient multi-agency support and that young people need long-term relational support through programmes such as mentoring.

XLP began in 1996 in response to a stabbing in a school playground. The school's headmaster asked Patrick Regan, a local church-based youth worker, to come into the school and work with their students and teachers to help with difficult behavioural issues.

Over the past 15 years XLP has grown from working in a single school to operating in over 70 schools and communities across Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Islington and Camden. XLP projects work with over 1800 young people one-to-one and in small.groups each week.