Don’t Blame School Exclusions For Rise In Knife Crime, Watchdog Says

Ofsted also found schools in London are not being supported in tackling the issue.

There is no evidence to suggest exclusions are the root cause of the surge in knife violence, according to research by Ofsted.

Children who carry knives “almost invariably” have complex problems that
begin long before they are excluded, the education watchdog found.

The major new report into safeguarding children from knife crime comes amid calls for a national emergency to be declared as the number of stabbings continues to rise.

Since the start of the year, nine teenagers have been stabbed to death in London, Birmingham and Manchester. Last week new NHS data reflected a 93% increase in the number of young people targeted by knives – up from from 180 admissions in 2012 to 347 last year.

As politicians and senior police officers argue over the causes, Ofsted found schools in London are not being supported well enough when it comes to dealing with the epidemic.

Teachers do not have the ability to counter the complex societal problems behind the rise in knife crime, and are often left out of conversations with police and other agencies, the research found.

The Ofsted report, Safeguarding children and young people in education from knife crime - lessons from London, looked at how 100 schools, colleges, and pupil referral units (PRUs) in London protect children from knife violence in school, and how they teach pupils to stay safe outside of school.

The study also examined how exclusions are being used when children bring
knives into school.

Her Majesty’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, said the study didn’t set out to prove or disprove whether exclusions lead to knife crime as that was “a task that is beyond the realm of the possible”.

However, she said: “It seems just as likely that exclusions and knife crime are two symptoms of the same underlying problems, exacerbated by cuts to local authority children’s services.”

She added there was a “harmful narrative” developing that exclusions must cause children to join gangs or carry knives because, when they are excluded, they are put in very poor-quality alternative provision (AP) or pupil referral units (PRUs), and eventually fall out of the school system altogether.

“In fact, over 80% of state-funded registered AP and PRUs are rated good or outstanding by my inspectors and, of those pupils not on a state school roll at age 16, few get there directly via exclusion from a mainstream school,” she said.

She added that “off-rolling or managed moves to unregistered or
illegal AP or to no education, employment or training at all” was more of a concern.

Spielman does believe schools need to do more to follow statutory guidance on exclusions and should be considering what extra support they can put in place for children at risk.

She said many school and college leaders they spoke to were trying to educate children about the dangers of knife crime and the risks of grooming and exploitation by gangs.

She said educating parents was also crucial, and said the parents of both victims and perpetrators they spoke to were “unanimous in their call for policy makers and local leaders to talk more to parents about grooming, criminal exploitation and knife crime”.

“These parents could sense that something was wrong with their children, but did not have the knowledge to link that to criminal exploitation and therefore do something about it.

“Instead, and tragically, they thought their children’s increasingly challenging behaviour was due to their own divorce or even, in one case, suspecting their child was being sexually abused,” she said.

The report makes various recommendations for school and college leaders, local authorities, the police and other pan-London agencies about how to work better together to help keep children safe.

Mike Sheridan, Ofsted’s regional director for London, said schools should be “fully involved” in local knife crime strategies, but “too few are brought around the table”.

“Only just over half of the schools surveyed were aware their borough had a knife crime strategy,” he said.

He said schools can be isolated from each other and other agencies working on knife crime, which can lead to inconsistencies in the way schools approach the issue.

“It is clear that there is an overwhelming desire from different agencies to reduce the prevalence of knife crime,” he said. “I hope that this insight into the issue through the eyes of school leaders will create momentum across London for a more co-ordinated approach to protecting vulnerable children from the dangers of knife violence.”

Responding to the report, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union said the causes and not just the symptoms of knife crime need to be “urgently looked at”.

“Children and young people are exposed to pressures from peers and gangs outside of the school gates. Youth services have been decimated leaving very few safe places to go outside of school hours or during the holidays.

“Support services to deal with behaviour issues that occur in and outside of schools have also been cut back or disappeared all together.”

Bousted acknowledged that schools sometimes have to exclude pupils but said it was the illegal off-rolling that meant pupils drop through the system with no adequate safety net to catch them.

“To stop this happening schools need the resources, support and funding to cope with pupils with additional needs and we need an accountability system that does not penalise schools who are working with children with complex needs,” she said.