Keeping Our Children Safe

Printed in the Western Morning News - 10/08/19

This morning (July 31st) the major news story on the BBC was the report of the Home Affairs Committee on the violence strategy. The headline calls for dedicated police for violent schools. In my view, this is misleading and portrays schools and the solution in a very simplistic way.

Let’s be clear, schools are not innately violent – it’s just that some pupils are. In all schools there will be some who put their selfish needs ahead of the school community and seek to satisfy them at the expense of others. However, there are many wonderful, noble young people doing amazing things in all schools. We must not badge all youngsters as violent and create a false split in society.

It is those pupils who cause trouble and may be violent and those schools that have a greater proportion of them that need help most. So, what about the headline committee recommendation - does it make sense?

Dedicated police officers for violent schools – this is too simple an approach and misses out on the complete picture. It demonises those schools and only addresses the end of the problem not its roots.

All schools should have regular contact with their neighbourhood policing team. This builds respect for the police, educates on issues such as drugs and knife crime and strengthens the bonds of society. A community based approach is the only way to address anti-social behaviour leading to more serious crime. In Dorset - we are lucky in that our knife crime is very low – (247 in the last year compared to Bristol with about 5000 in the same period) so this is about ensuring that this stays that way.

With the new PM’s announced increase  in police numbers and a review of tasking and priorities this should be achievable.  

So what do problem schools really need? I would like to see a priority set to examine the neighbourhood around schools. We have a clear duty to protect our young from things and people that could harm them. I have two suggestions that would change the narrative and protect our children better:

Immediate hotspot priority policing around schools when issues become evident whether this be gangs, drug dealers or concerns about grooming.

Increased focus and custodial sentences for any individual targeting a school and its pupils for example a drug dealer seeking to find more customers.

The committee also made recommendations about more funding for youth clubs and extra-curricular activities as well as a reduction in school exclusions. The former I agree with wholeheartedly, exclusions are more difficult in that I believe that no matter how vulnerable a pupil may be, there is sometimes a need to protect the school community as well. Ultimately, that will be a judgement but I condemn schools that use permanent exclusions to serve themselves – they should be a weapon of last resort only in significant circumstances.

Let’s help our schools by prioritising the problems outside.

We should be generous with the provision of extra-curricular activities, save the need for permanent exclusions only as a last resort and above all be robust in enforcement in and around our schools.

This will keep our children safe and help them achieve their full potential.