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Multi-agency approach needed to tackle knife crime

Schools can only do so much, says Ofsted

Published on 15th March 2019

A multi-agency approach is required to put children first and protect them from county lines, gangs, knives, drugs and from adults who pose a risk to them, Ofsted has said.

Knife crime has a huge impact on children and communities nationally and is a societal problem and it cannot be tackled by schools or single agencies alone.

"Schools can only do so much," said a report published by Ofsted entitled 'Safeguarding children and young people in education from knife crime'. " They must identify, support, help and protect children on the school site, and they can do their best to teach them about the dangers of knives and related dangers."

"But children need everyone in society – the police, local autorities, health, youth services, welfare services, housing services, local communities, their parents, social media providers and so on – to work together and to put children first and protect them from county lines, gangs, knives, drugs and from adults who pose a risk to them," the report added.

The report is based on data from London, but many of the recommendations apply equally across the country.

In the 12 months to September 2018, knife crime had increased by 68.4% across England and Wales (excluding the Greater Manchester Police area) compared with 12 months up to September 2014. Data from 21 police forces in England and Wales obtained through a freedom of information request showed that 363 sharp instruments were found on school property in 2017–18.

The report highlights that children are in three categories of risk of knife-carrying:

- The highest level of risk is for those children who have been groomed into gangs, for the purposes of criminal exploitation.

- Underneath this lies a group of children who have witnessed other children carrying knives, have been the victim of knife crime or know someone who has carried a knife for protection or status-acquisition or who are encouraged to believe knife-carrying is normal through the glamorisation of gangs and knives on social media.

- Then there are children who carry knives to school as an isolated incident. For example, they may carry a penknife that a grandparent has gifted them.

"It is important to remember that knife crime does not exist in a vacuum and children who are victims or perpetrators may also be experiencing multiple vulnerabilities," said the report. "The common denominator of pupils who are found carrying bladed objects into school is their vulnerability."

"Leaders were clear that, almost invariably, these children have experienced poverty, abuse or neglect or are living within troubled families. They may also experience social exclusion due to factors such as their race or socio-economic background," it added.

Staff and school leaders are generally confident that children are safe from knife crime at school and children confirmed this. The most dangerous time for children is shortly after school, between 4pm and 6pm. So, while children might be safe on site, their safety after school is a concern for children, their parents and their teachers.

The report highlights that the context within which multi-agency and partnership working takes place means agencies face many challenges. Children’s services are dealing with increasing demand to support the most vulnerable children and many have significantly reduced budgets for preventative services in order to protect specialist social care services.

It identifies five policy and practice areas that Ofsted feels need further consideration by policy leaders and school leaders to help to create an environment in which they can work as effectively as possible to keep children safe.

- Improving partnership working and strategic planning

- The use of exclusions and managed moves

- Early help and intervention

- Teaching the curriculum and supporting children to achieve

- Working with parents.

The report recommends that local community safety partnerships should fully involve schools, colleges and PRUs in developing and implementing local strategies that aim to address knife crime and serious youth violence.

It warns that a dialogue between local safeguarding partners and schools about the purpose of searching, the impact on staff and pupils and evidence of the impact on knife-carrying appears to be missing. Furthermore school leaders have very different approaches to involving the police in incidents of knife-carrying. The approach varied widely between schools with some school leaders holding a strong ethos against criminalising children, or calling the police, in response to a child bringing a bladed article into school, while others were firmly of the opinion that it is an offence and should be treated as such.

Some school leaders said there was no specific training provided to staff on how to deal with any incidents when a knife is detected, nor on how to deal with the aftermath of any incidents. In other schools, staff have had extensive training specifically on knife crime funded by the school, and in some boroughs on contextual safeguarding led by the local authority or local safeguarding partnerships.

"The biggest barrier schools and other agencies face is cost, whether they are trying to fund extra resources to keep a child from being excluded, or to keep alternative provision open, or seeing reductions in the number of SSOs and police community support officers (PCSOs), who provided valuable support," said ther report.

Ofsted recommends that safeguarding partners should involve school leaders at a strategic level in assessing the needs of children and young people in their area, and in planning and delivering early help services in response to those needs.

Schools need to participate actively in local arrangements as required under ‘Keeping children safe in education’ statutory guidance.

The report also calls for the Metropolitan Police Service to establish a clear and consistent protocol and memorandums of understanding with schools that ensure that it  and schools routinely share information about children for the purposes of safeguarding.

With regards to the curriculum, the report urges school leaders to consider how their personal, social, health and economic education (PHSE) curriculum reflects local safeguarding issues and trends, including knife crime. Further, safeguarding partnerships and school leaders should raise awareness of the dangers of grooming and criminal exploitation among both parents and children.

"While there are actions for schools, there is also the need for some coordination. London is complex, but it also has influential Pan-London bodies that can take a leading role in coordinating appropriate information-sharing and managing places for the most difficult children," said the report.

"The Mayor of London has long spoken about an accreditation system for schools and colleges working to keep children safe from knife crime. We hope this report helps frame some of the requirements for such an accreditation and that schools see full engagement as a sign of strength and determination, rather than an admission of being a ‘problem school’," it concludes.

'Safeguarding children and young people in education from knife crime'

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