What can schools do to lessen the impact of knife crime on pupils?

Written by: Fiona Aubrey-Smith | Published:
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The knife crime epidemic is having a huge impact on communities and is leaving our youngest children frightened and anxious. A group of schools is now convening a summit in June to discuss the role of primary schools in reassuring and supporting pupils and their families. Fiona Aubrey-Smith reports

At the time of writing this piece, more than 36 people had been killed through stabbings in London in 2019. Last year the figure totalled 138.

In just four days at the beginning of April, five people were stabbed in five separate incidents all within a mile or so radius of each other in Edmonton. In the same period, numerous assaults and muggings of students took place on evening buses as secondary children travelled home from school.

Less than half a mile from these violent incidents, sits Raynham Primary School, one of the largest primary schools in the country. As the spring term came to a close, most schools were focusing on Easter celebrations and spring projects. Some were starting to think about the impending assessments facing children in the summer term.

For schools such as Raynham, however, staff were forced instead to be finding solutions to far greater challenges. What could be done about ensuring the safety of children who were walking home alone after school along the same streets that had been the scenes of multiple attempted murders earlier that day? What could be done to mitigate the impact of these events on our children?

Furthermore, how would the school respond to the emotional and practical needs of children whose families, neighbours and friends were caught up in the violent events taking place?

And how, with all of the frenzied social, emotional and practical activity buzzing around the local area, could children be supported to feel safe, so that they could maybe, just maybe, focus on learning and achieving?

Sadly, incidents such as these, although more recently in the national press with alarming frequency, are not isolated, and are not new. Neither are they just to be found in London.

Staff at Raynham have learned through experience to respond to the ripples that emanate from each of these violent incidents and clearly they are making a difference: children attending Raynham achieve higher than both the local and national averages across the curriculum at the end of both key stages.

But many of the issues that need to be addressed are far greater than the inspirational staff at Raynham can tackle alone. Headteacher Marva Rollins explained: “Our local police and the local authority respond quickly with updates and guidance. These events impact both the children and many of our staff – those who live locally are anxious about moving around the area – so it is vitally important that we find ways of supporting them.”

She continued: “We tell children that as dreadful as these events are, they are rare. We have to be mindful that children may begin to think that this is the norm in society. However, in a situation where many children know someone who has been caught up by these incidents it difficult to reassure them. These children should be enjoying their childhood, not living in fear.”

Consequently, these local schools have been working together to explore how they can take a joined up approach to sharing vital information at times of emergency, thus calming local tensions and supporting community workers and officials.

There are many strategies and activities currently in place at Raynham and elsewhere. For example, children in years 5 and 6 take part in gang awareness and prevention workshops which are supported by the local police and community organisations.

However, this is not enough. We know that children look to us as the adults around them for guidance in their lives and for reassurance. The problem is that policy-makers do not seem to know what to do. Short-term measures, such as increasing stop and search, for example, creates only short-term impact.

The rise in these kinds of incidents suggests a far deeper and longer term problem, requiring a far more sophisticated solution. The government has instructed schools to report students who they consider to be vulnerable, or likely to be carrying knives.

This, yet again, places the responsibility for solving issues created by poverty and disengagement on schools. A summit for change is therefore being convened to set out a strategy and to find practical, transferable and immediate solutions:

  • To help children to see these events in context.
  • To increase preventative work.
  • To support children, staff, families and the local community as they navigate through what is happening around them.

The development of this strategy needs school leaders, system leaders, community leaders and those working across education, police and policy to work together. We must, so that these children can focus on their futures. They deserve our energy.

So we invite you to join us on Thursday, June 27, in central London, where leaders working at all levels will talk and listen to each other, focusing practically about what we can do together. There is no single organisation leading this work, it is a bringing together of those affected, in order to effect change.

Ms Rollins added:“We are at the reality end of dealing with our young people who are less likely to engage at the political level – which appears to have no solutions anyway. We, as leaders in education, should come together to create a national strategy.”

Let’s make that happen.

  • Fiona Aubrey-Smith is a former school leader and now doctoral researcher who facilitates a number of national networks. She sits on several MAT boards and is chair of governors at a maintained primary school. Email fionaaubreysmith@googlemail.com. Read her previous best practice pieces for Headteacher Update, via http://bit.ly/2IPHfe4

Further information & resources

To get involved with the summit, contact Fiona Aubrey-Smith at fionaaubreysmith@googlemail.com or visit www.safetothrive.org

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