Talking to pupils about knife crime

Written by: Karen Sullivan | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

In the final part of her series on the knife crime epidemic among young people, Karen Sullivan proffers some solutions for society and looks at the role of schools

In my last two articles for SecEd, we have looked at the incidence and some of the causes of the burgeoning threat of knife crime (December and November 2018).

As I write, another child – this time 14-years-old – has been killed on London’s streets. And while schools cannot bear the brunt of responsibility for this ever-more insidious violence, we can take steps to address some of the factors that may be at its root, and help to drive home the message that there are other ways to resolve disputes.

First and foremost, don’t be afraid to instigate your own “stop and search” on the premises. Make parents and carers aware that you will be undertaking this.

There is no breach of rights. In January 2018, schools were given powers to search, screen and confiscate prohibited items. If necessary, invest in a hand-held metal detector. It is also important to ensure that parents/carers are checking as best they can at home.

In the year to June last year, there were 69,000 incidents of child wounding in England and Wales, and knife possession has increased by 22 per cent in a year.

By simple reckoning, either a lot of parents are turning a blind eye, or are simply not aware of the fact that even “good” kids are being drawn into situations where they feel the need to carry a weapon. It is worth noting here that a good number carry them for self-protection and out of fear. And this needs to be addressed, too.
However, the reluctance of many schools to implement such measures must be acknowledged and respected. So, what else can we do?

There needs to be both school and wider community initiatives in place to make everyone aware of the very real dangers, including boxes in the school and the surrounding area where kids can report concerns and relay information about who is carrying weapons and who may be in danger.

Ask your local police station to set up a free number to ring or text. If there are no resources for this, set up your own text hotline where students can anonymously report.

Look at the perpetrators in a different way. The majority of the young people involved in this type of crime are victims themselves – broken homes, subject to violence, targeted by gangs and drug dealers, under-supervised and often suffering from PTSD and a lack of empathy that is derived from their experiences. These children need help and, even with funding increased to tackle knife crime, the resources made available for damaged young people, with serious emotional health issues, is far from adequate.

So in lessons, what can we do? Use PSHE classes and form periods to open the discussion about weapons and what students are witnessing. Encourage them to write about their experiences in a journal or a piece of creative writing.

Ask them to imagine a friend being murdered and write about the emotions this would evoke. Ask them to write a piece of short fiction about someone caught up in knife violence, including how they got there and what happened next. Personal experiences are bound to feature in this kind of creative work, and can be useful for educators to understand how students are feeling, and how those feelings lead to this kind of violence.

The Ben Kinsella Trust has a wealth of free resources as well as in-school workshops that will help to drive home with students the dangers of carrying a knife. The workshops also focus on helping students to make positive choices to stay safe. There is a wealth of information on the charity’s website, including some emotive first-person accounts and some staggering statistics. Encourage students to visit the website and draw up a summary document.

While this is unlikely to change things directly, educating young people on the realities will help to open up discussion, make students more vigilant and help those who are involved to feel less frightened and alone.

Create some “what if” scenarios. What if a student is scared and in danger. Is it ever okay to carry a weapon? What are the options? Talk about gangs and why your students think they are on the increase. Talk about peer pressure and the “calls” made on social media for the warriors to support their cause. How should students respond? Opening up the subject for discussion demystifies it and helps students see that there are alternatives.

Teach empathy. Look for books that mirror your students’ lives and experiences. The publishing industry is responding to the call for diversity in young people’s fiction, and more and more books that legitimately represent the lives of young people are being published. Books by Alex Wheatle, Barry Hines, Malorie Blackman, Benjamin Zephaniah, Matt Wesolowski, Catherine Bruton, Doug Johnstone, Angie Thomas, Anthony McGowan, Alan Gibbons are all unflinching in their approach, and worth a class read to inspire discussion.

Actively model kindness and caring yourself. Showing your children how to be empathetic can be powerful and can teach them how to interact with and respond to others in ways they may, very sadly, have never seen.

Involve the students in World Kindness Day and the activities set out by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. While this may seem trite in the face of a very dangerous situation, there is plenty of research to suggest that the good, happy, positive feelings engendered can have a profound impact on self-esteem and mental health, and create a nurturing, caring school environment that can go a long way towards making up for lack of acceptance, love and care at home.

Take advantage of the huge range of initiatives that the government is now making available, particularly the #KnifeFree campaign materials, which include real-life stories of young people who have turned their lives around. Bring in ex-students, local people, who have done the same. There is nothing more inspiring than a first-person narrative.

Above all, however, I would implore you not to give up, or to think for a single second that this is a trend, a fad, that will go away. Whatever its cause, or multitudinous causes, we need to act now before more young people lose their lives and we become immune to the violence around us and the very real threat that this holds.SecEd

  • Karen Sullivan is a best-selling author, psychologist and childcare expert. Email kesullivan@aol.com. To read her previous articles, including her previous two pieces on knife crime, go to http://bit.ly/1SNgg00

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