Knife Crime must be tackled

Those readers that have followed this blog since its inception in 2014 will know that I have written sparingly about the issue of knife crime. They will also know that I write from personal experience. In 1977 a pupil excluded from both a mainstream secondary school and then a special school entered my classroom and stabbed me in front of a class of pupils: luckily I survived.

I think my comments on the issue of exclusions and knife crime, today’s current topic for debate in the media, were best summed up in my post of 14th April last year under the heading ‘The responsibility of us all’. https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2018/04/14/the-responsibility-of-us-all/

The most telling paragraph is not about the deaths but that:

NHS data shows a 63% increase over five years in the number of children aged 16 and under who have been treated for stab wounds in England. The largest increase (85%) between 2011/12 and 2016/17 was among 15-year-olds. The overall rise in the number of stabbings across England during the same period was 14%.

Like my experience, most of these could have been near misses. As I pointed out last year, exclusions have always been greatest among 14 and 15 year old boys.

What was also interesting today was to hear the Mayor of London on the BBC’s Today programme apparently recognising the role local authorities used to play in education; not least in coordinating what happens to excluded pupils. The role of local authorities is one, although unfashionable, I have consistently championed through this blog.

I am also interested to know how many local authority scrutiny committees have focused the spotlight on exclusions in recent years: Oxfordshire Education Scrutiny Committee has done so, and you can find link to their report by using the search facility on WordPress.

The reduction in the use of youth custody has been a positive outcome of the change in the approach to penal policy and sentencing in recent years, and I do not think locking up fewer young people has contributed to the rise in knife crime and the associated deaths and serious injuries.

However, I do think the almost complete destruction of youth services and the speed with which ideas can be transmitted through social media may be important factors. Much has been made of gangs, and what happened in Lancashire recently was horrific, but the stabbing of individuals on suburban streets and in other public spaces merits the question as to what was behind these seemingly senseless acts of violence. Were they gratuitous or was there a motive?

Much has also been made of the spread of drugs and the ‘county lines’ that have recreated modern ‘Fagins’, with control over the lives not only of those that run drugs but their families and friends.

Tacking these complex problems while also staying alert for the threat of terrorism almost certainly demands more resources for our police. Schools may also need more targeted resources to cope with challenging pupils. Will this mean a move back towards are more hypothecated distribution of funds, thus curbing some of the freedom schools currently enjoy?

 

  

Advertisements

The responsibility of us all

The following item was reported in several newspapers earlier this week, including The Daily Telegraph https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/11/child-stabbings-rise-63pc-amid-disturbing-trend-younger-knife/

NHS data shows a 63% increase over five years in the number of children aged 16 and under who have been treated for stab wounds in England. The largest increase (85%) between 2011/12 and 2016/17 was among 15-year-olds. The overall rise in the number of stabbings across England during the same period was 14%.

Now there may not be a correlation, but 15-year olds, and 15-year old young men in particular, have the highest rate of exclusions from our schools. After falling for many years, exclusions are also on the rise across much of England.

As those that know my life history will understand these two sets of statistics and particularly the one about knife crime have an especial resonance with me, as it was a teenager that stabbed me over 40 years ago in a rare act of serious and unprovoked violence that just happened to take place in a classroom in front of a group of children. As a result, knife crime has always been of special concern to me. I do view the recent upturn as a worrying trend.

Oxfordshire’s Cabinet will be discussing the County’s Education Scrutiny Committee report on exclusions in the county at their meeting next Tuesday. You can read the report in the Cabinet papers for 17th April 2018 at www.oxfordshire.gov.uk at item 6. I always hope that young people engaged fully in education will be less likely to commit these acts of knife crime.

I am also sure that cutbacks in both the Youth Service budget and that of the Youth Offending Teams across the county, along with revisions to Probation, probably haven’t helped in the prevention of such crimes. As ever, cutbacks have consequences further down the line when the money is being well spent.

In this case, changes in the nature of the curriculum probably may also have played a part since practical subjects have also too often been replaced with additional classroom time that can make life more challenging for many teachers working with pupils that don’t appreciate their efforts.

I believe there needs to be a concerted effort on the part of all responsible to once again recognise the need for behaviour management and to do everything to research and investigate the causes of exclusions in their school. Generally, persistent disruptive behaviour is given as the reasons for the largest number of exclusions. Working out how to reduce these exclusions should help allow resources to then be focused on dealing with other reasons why pupils are excluded.

It doesn’t matter whether schools are maintained, voluntary added, academies or free schools, they all have a responsibility to tackle this problem of school children carrying and using knives. Teaching Schools, National Leaders of Education and of Governance and those responsible for both training new entrants into the profession as well as designing continuing professional development will also need to ensure that they continue to make behaviour management strategies a high priority.

 

Supreme Court one; Parliament a half

This has been a busy week, so I am catching up on various issues. The Supreme Court decision announced last week that cautions are no longer to be required to be disclosed for life makes real sense in a world where a volunteer pensioner reading to under-fives can currently be required to disclose all criminal convictions, even those acquired half a century ago.

Now I think is the time to bring the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and the disclosure rules into harmony so that everyone can easily understand what is required and why. This would include the police and the issue of ‘soft intelligence’. It would be silly if cautions, having been removed as part of the criminal record, reappeared in enhanced disclosures as part of ‘soft intelligence’ held by police and disclosed as part of the process of ensuring unsuitable people don’t work with children or vulnerable adults.

I have awarded a half to parliament because of the work of the group of parliamentarians that appeared at almost the same time as the Supreme Court judgement saying much the same thing. Less, helpful, as those who followed my blog after the stabbing of the Leeds teacher will know, was the actions of Labour and Conservative back bench MPs ganging up together to insert a new clause in the Bill currently going through parliament requiring mandatory prison sentences for anyone convicted of two offences of carrying a bladed instrument: a knife to you, me and the MPs.

To their credit most Liberal Democrats MPs voted against this proposal, and would presumably be happy to leave judgement on sentencing to the courts within the framework of a maximum tariff set down by parliament and the guidelines from the Sentencing Council.

How little there is to distinguish Labour and Tory policies also became apparent this morning in the interview the Labour Secretary of State gave to the Sunday Times. He is reported as saying that all two-year olds should be sent to school because basic skills such as counting and holding a pen are easier to grasp at school rather than at home or with under-qualified child minders. This sends a shudder through me. I suspect most two year olds aren’t ready for fine motor skills required in holding a pen, and as a colleague emailed me:

 Knowledge is now available through a keyboard and touchscreen and increasingly important works are available online. I was delighted to find Fuster’s “Prefrontal Cortex” and Hubel’s  “Eye, Brain, and Vision” available for free download. The basis skill for writing is therefore keyboarding, not pencil printing. And mathematical comprehension is derived from language not perception, so the best way to learn number is by playing with the symbol system on a calculator first. Remember: language is a set of arbitrary symbols with which children come to school equipped. When will politicians and academics understand that all improvement is technology-based? At present all appear to be in denial.

There is certainly a debate to be had about the importance of early writing skills in a technological age where two –year olds won’t retire from the labour market until the 2080s if present trends continue. By then, pens might be restricted to use in calligraphy as an art form.  I might have been more impressed if Mr Hunt had suggested the use of turtles and coding to make them run around the floor. But, he is a historian, so perhaps he is better at looking backwards than forwards.

Knife crime: do we need mandatory sentences?

There was a debate on the Today programme this morning about mandatory prison sentences for possession of a bladed instrument – to use the formal legal terminology – carrying a knife to you and me. A mother whose son had been killed while attending a party as a teenager was advocating not just prison for using a knife, but even for just carrying one; presumably as a means of deterring young people from so doing. Simon Hughes as the Minister had a difficult job talking about a policy on mandatory sentences advocated by one of his ministerial colleagues that his party leader has publically disagreed with.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have a personal interest in knife crime for reasons I don’t need to discuss again in this post. However, as I have written in a piece for the Church Times, by coincidence published today, I am opposed to mandatory  prison sentences for carrying a knife or other bladed instrument. Unlike the mother interviewed on the Today programme, who dismissed the courts out of hand, I have more faith in the judiciary and the guidelines set down by the Sentencing Body and the higher courts, including the Supreme Court.

As well as being a victim of a knife crime, I also served for 20 years within the justice system, so I have considered this issue in my mind several times over the past few years. Draconian laws will have some effect. However, fishing is the most popular participation activity for men in this country, and it usually involves carrying a knife. Going on a summer picnic may involve carrying a knife to cut the cheese with or even the bread. Automatic prison sentences for carrying knives in these situations? There would presumably need to be the exception for those carrying on their trade, carpet fitters, chefs, and no doubt those that work in many other occupations and carry knives from place to place. So, perhaps we should just consider banning the carrying of knives by those under the age of eighteen, as we do with the sale of alcohol or cigarettes; and punish both the seller and the purchaser with prison? It would have an effect, but since even some in custody seem adept at creating bladed instruments from what is on hand in prison, it seems that where there is a will there is a way.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I prefer a different approach based upon education and earlier intervention. The Museum of Childhood ran an interesting exhibition on the subject of knife crime some time ago and their very readable booklet can be found at:  http://www.museumofchildhood.org.uk/__documents/teen_knife_crime_booklet.pdf (link no longer active – September 2018) What is clear is that social media and the internet have allowed those opposed to knife crime the opportunity to spread their messages as much as those that want punitive action.

I don’t condone violence whether with a knife, gun or a fist, but dealing with those with anti-social attitudes just by locking them up doesn’t completely solve the problem.  Compared with a decade ago, knife crime, and many other crimes, seems on a downward trend. I remain to be convinced that harsher sentences will assist in reducing knife crime still further in society.

Condolences

The news of the stabbing to death of a teacher in Leeds is both truly shocking and saddening at the same time. Fortunately, such deaths in schools are rare in the United Kingdom, and it is no small irony that this fatality happened in a Roman Catholic school in a challenging area just as the death nearly 20 years ago of head teacher Philip Lawrence did in north Westminster. We may live in a post-Christian society, but the Churches still offer education in many of the more disadvantaged areas of our country.

My thoughts and condolences are with the family and friends of the teacher, as well as the pupils and those that work at the school, and the wider local community. Nearly 40 years ago, I was the victim of a classroom stabbing by an intruder that could in different circumstances have ended in a fatality. As a result, I can understand something of the grief such an unexpected event give rise to. Fortunately, unlike in my day, there will no doubt be extensive counselling offered to all concerned. I don’t know the circumstances of this stabbing, except that the news bulletin says that it was a female teacher in her 60s who presumably had been at the school for some time. More will no doubt come out over the next few days and then at the subsequent trial.

The Court of Appeal has recently taken a tough stand on the carrying of knives, and rightly so if we are to reduce the incidence of violence still further in society. But, despite all the draconian laws it is impossible to entirely prevent attacks where there is a will to do violence to another.

Finally, perhaps the Secretary of State might consider a memorial in the new offices for the DfE after they move to Whitehall in 2017 that recognises the sacrifice of the small band of teachers that have given their lives to their profession. There may not be many of them, but they deserve not to be forgotten.