Teachers worried over knife crime accountability proposals

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

There is concern this week over how proposed new duties to make teachers and other public sector workers accountable for preventing knife crime will work in practice.

A Home Office consultation has outlined a new multi-agency and legal “public health duty” designed to spot the warning signs of involvement in knife crime.

However, school leaders and teachers are worried about the implications of the idea and have pointed to the wealth of safeguarding work that is already carried out.

Furthermore, there is frustration that schools and others are being asked to tackle a problem that many see as being caused by the government’s policy of austerity, including the cuts to police numbers and Safer Schools Partnerships.

Prime minister Theresa May – who held a summit on youth violence at Downing Street on Monday – has said that the plans are designed to “identify more young people at risk”.

Examples given by the Home Office include public sector workers reporting warning signs such as a young person presenting in A&E with a suspicious injury, displaying worrying behaviour at school or having issues at home.

The consultation outlines introducing primary legislation to place a “new duty on specific organisations to have due regard to the prevention and tackling of serious violence”.

This list of organisations, it says, would include local authorities, education, child care institutions, health and social care bodies, and the police.

The consultation sets out links between risk factors – such as domestic abuse, truancy, school exclusions and substance abuse – and violent crime.

It states: “Action should be guided by evidence of the problems and what works in tackling their root causes. To do this, we must bring organisations together to share information, data and intelligence and encourage them to work in concert rather than in isolation.

“A duty to prevent and tackle serious violence should reinforce an emphasis on early intervention and prevention with young people.

“We envisage that each body subject to the new duty would determine for themselves how they would address and comply with a duty to have due regard to tackling and preventing serious violence.”

The consultation will run until the end of May, but the idea has been met with concern and scepticism from teachers and school leaders.

The National Association of Head Teachers welcomed the idea of a joined-up approach, but said that many schools are already working in such partnerships with police and local authorities.

General secretary Paul Whiteman said: “The problem for all these agencies is that they are all under-resourced and over-stretched. The Safer Schools Partnerships of the early 2000s have withered on the vine since the start of austerity. There are 7,000 fewer neighbourhood police officers than there were in 2010. School budgets are at breaking point, with a shortfall in funding of £5.4 billion over the past three years.”

Furthermore, he said that government guidelines and requirements are already in place, including Keeping Children Safe in Education (September 2018) and last year’s guidance from the Home Office on preventing youth violence and gang involvement, which outlines how schools should work alongside other agencies.

Mr Whiteman added: “Further legal obligations to work together will not solve the problem. The biggest barrier to keeping young people safe is a lack of funding for essential public services.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the plan was not “workable or reasonable”.

He explained: “What sort of behaviour would they be expected to report and who would they report to? How would they be held accountable, for what, and what would the consequences be? How would the government prevent the likelihood of over-reporting caused by the fear of these consequences?

“Aside from the practical considerations, we have to ask whether it is fair to put the onus on teachers for what is essentially a government failure to put enough police on the streets.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said that schools already had “strong safeguarding systems” in place.

She continued: The problem is what happens after issues of concern have been identified. Schools have lost pastoral support, special needs teachers and school councillors.

“The home secretary should accept the impact the decimation of youth services has had, leaving very few safe places for children to go outside of school hours or during the holidays. The severe cutbacks to support services to deal with behaviour issues that occur in and outside of schools are also a major issue.”

The NASUWT, meanwhile, said that “scapegoating” teachers and others would not solve violent crime. General secretary Chris Keates added:There have been savage cuts by government to local authority funding which has resulted in either the severe reduction or the disappearance altogether of specialist external support, including appropriate referral units on which schools have been able in the past to rely. In addition, in many areas the pressure on schools to take pupils with serious behaviour issues, who should be in specialist provision, has increased.

“Teachers are entitled to teach and pupils are entitled to learn in an environment free from violence and disruption. If exclusion is necessary to achieve this, then schools must be free to exercise their right to exclude. It’s the responsibility of government to ensure there is appropriate provision for excluded pupils.”

The government has said it would issue guidance to schools and others to help fulfil the new duty and that it would not impose “new functions” on schools, but rather that the duty should be considered while existing functions are carried out.

  • Open consultation: Serious violence: new legal duty to support multi-agency action, Home Office & Welsh government, April 2019 (closes May 28, 2019): http://bit.ly/2UbTawb


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