Knife crime duty ‘ill-thought-out’

Written by: Deborah Lawson | Published:
Deborah Lawson, general secretary, Voice
An excellent piece from the General Secretary about new legal duty to support multi-agency ...

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The government’s rush to appear tough on knife crime has led to a flawed proposal that will heap yet more responsibility onto schools, says Deborah Lawson

If the headlines generated by the recent consultation on preventing and tackling serious violence (Home Office, 2019) are to be believed, teachers could soon be held accountable for failing to know that a pupil in their class was involved in violent crime.

School leaders, teachers and the whole education workforce are, like the rest of society, rightly concerned about the rise in violent crime (SecEd, 2019). However, it seems that in the government’s rush to appear tough on knife crime, its consultation, while advocating a multi-agency approach, appears to suggest this can only be achieved by imposing new duties – despite evidence to the contrary from Scotland.

The consultation is focused too much on the “legal duty” and not enough on the causes of violent crime. Imposing yet more duties on schools, or other agencies, and apportioning blame, will not lead to what is needed – to understand the underlying causes in order to find a solution.

While education secretary Damian Hinds recognises the complexity of the issue – and that the critical factor is to understand why knife crime is rising – his colleagues at the Home Office appear to think “duty” or legislation is the road to success.

Mr Hinds has rightly pledged to protect teachers from unnecessary burdens, recognising the scale of the problem as one that cannot be solved by schools alone, or by reporting alone. His view is supported by Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman who said that schools cannot be a panacea for this particular societal ill.

That the ugly spectre of austerity is a factor is without doubt. All agencies and services have been cut to the bone, with thresholds for support increasing with each swingeing cut. Listen to any youth workers, or the young people they work with and you will hear about savage cuts to youth services, youth clubs closing, a lack of suitable role models for young people, unemployment, poor housing, easy money to be made from drugs, and the spiral of violence and crime that entails.

Austerity also brought about the demise of the Extended Schools programme (which encouraged out-of-school activities), Every Child Matters (which supported children to “stay safe and be healthy”) and the Connexions careers service.

There is an important distinction between having a responsibility to report any concerns you may have and being held accountable for failure to spot warning signs. Not reporting that you saw a child with a knife is one thing, being questioned for not knowing a child was in a gang is another. And will accountability get to the root causes of violent crime or provide the necessary evidence and resources to tackle this problem?

The consultation offers three options: a new duty on specific organisations to have due regard to the prevention and tackling of serious violence (the government’s preferred option), a new duty through legislating to revise Community Safety Partnerships, and a voluntary non-legislative approach.

What is needed, as the consultation suggests, is a multi-agency approach to “understand the causes and consequences of serious violence, focused on prevention and early intervention, and informed by evidence and rigorous evaluation of interventions”.

The success of a “public health” approach is not dependent on the imposition of additional duties. What it relies on is “a range of bodies and organisations to work together to tackle this issue”.

Teachers and schools are rightly required to have robust safeguarding procedures to protect children from harm and be safe. This is a duty which schools embrace with vigour.

Within this context, schools are playing their part. What they, and other agencies, lack is the capacity and resources to embrace the partnership approach to make it work.

As such, we need to hear less about legislated duty and blame for the “accountable”, and more about collaboration and investment in resources.

  • Deborah Lawson is general secretary of Voice.

Further information

  • Serious violence: New legal duty to support multi-agency action, Home Office, April 2019 (consultation closes May 28): http://bit.ly/2UbTawb
  • Teachers worried over knife crime accountability proposals, SecEd, April 2019: http://bit.ly/2VSKAze


Comments
An excellent piece from the General Secretary about new legal duty to support multi-agency action-Home Office, April 2019. Teachers are already acting as social workers, MH support workers, on top of their statutory teaching role, but now being expected to spot children as members of gangs is a step too far. Teachers are right to be concerned about this new ‘cheap’ approach to tackling the scourge of knife crime in our towns.
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