According to the news, now would seem to be a particularly dangerous time to be a young person, what with a number of horrific shootings and stabbings. And of course, we don’t know the half of it. Recently, I caught sight of a much smaller article on the inside pages about crime in London schools: almost 15,000 crimes committed in the past year, 3,208 of which were violent according to information released under the Freedom of Information Act 1998. And of course, not all incidents are included in the statistics.
Say you saw a fight in the street between two gangs of youths you might reasonably expect that someone would call the police. Imagine someone you invited into your home got angry and trashed the place, throwing chairs, kicking holes in the wall you would probably consider it within your rights at the very least to deny them any future access to your home.
Within school, the police may be called if there are actual weapons, of if there is a serious injury, but otherwise such incidents will be dealt with under the school’s behaviour policy. Explanations will be expected, letters of apology may be demanded, exclusions for a few days may be the worst that can happen. If the school has a police officer on site they might “have a quiet word”. The young person has effectively been kept out of the criminal justice system for a while longer, something we might applaud.
But are we actually doing them any favours? There is a sense that in some schools staff are so worn down by the constant battering of daily life that the threshold has crept up until the lid blows off. We know excluded students are not all supervised at home. How have they benefited from this system? What are we telling students about acceptable behaviour and consequences? How does this support the victims?
All violence is to be deplored wherever it occurs and addressed in a coherent way that seeks to recognise the impact on the victim as well as discourage similar behaviour in future. That is not to say that the police should always be brought in. But, if they are not, then the school’s own response needs to be commensurate with the seriousness of the incident. Otherwise what message are we giving out?
Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker