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‘Excluded’ from school and into a world of knife crime

Councillors, teachers and their unions, leading faith figures, local activists, and political types should get together and debate 'exclusions'

07 February, 2019 — By John Gulliver

THE tragedies of knife-crime are played out in the media almost every day.

What are the causes?

Knife crime has always been around certainly in inner London for more than 50 years.

My brother, who taught at Holloway Boys’ School in Islington in the late 1970s, knew many of his boys carried knives. But that was in more innocent days.

“What are you doing tonight?” he’d joke with teenagers if he met them in a Holloway street.

“A bit of stabbing, Sir,” they’d laugh.

But today it’s more serious – a bit of stabbing often ends up with a death as it did last week when a 17-year-old boy was murdered in Caledonian Road, just across the border.

Some sociologists and thinking reformers trace the causes back to, among other things, poor parenting and schooling, often ending up, today, with what is known as “exclusions”.

Headteachers and form teachers, fed up with bored, “unteachable” disruptive pupils, end up, in frustration, “excluding” them from school. Sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes, for good.

They are supposed to be sent to what is known as “pupil referral units”. If they turn up, that is. Many don’t.

They just wander the streets, and become targets for drug gangs, using them as “mules” to carry drugs to people desperate for them.

You can spot them in Camden streets.

Cllr Angela Mason

A Camden councillor anxious about the life of the “excluded” painted this picture when I talked to him over the weekend about the “exclusion” figure for the borough.

I start from the premise that teachers set out to do their best, and that council­lors are well-intended.

But I began to get concerned last autumn when I came across what seemed alarming annual “exclusion” figures for the borough of more than 900 in 2017.

The figure itself wasn’t as alarming as the fact that there was no analysis of it in the Town Hall report I read. It didn’t give any breakdown of race, gender or age. Just a global figure. Pretty unbelievable, I know.

Then when I attended a children’s committee meeting in late autumn a similar report made a similar point – again no analysis.

After I made one or two phone calls over the weekend, I received an email from the senior councillor responsible for what is known as “Best Start in Life”, Angela Mason, who stated that there had been a “pleasing decline” from the latest available figures for this year compared to 2017.

They show that the annual figure of “exclusions” for 2018 may be around 600 – a third down on the number for 2017.

This shows something is being done. But what? We need more openness. More public debate.

Councillors, teachers and their unions, leading faith figures, local activists, amenity or political types – what does it matter? – should get together, and debate this “thing” called “exclusions”.

It isn’t the only cause of knife crime.

But it is a factor, in my opinion.

I feel I am writing on behalf of young mothers who are afraid to let their children out in the evening.

There are parts of Camden that are not safe for them.

Don’t think this is an exaggerated picture. It isn’t.

Naturally, tensions and problems are more intense where poverty and racial bias breed.

This exists in the borough – for those who live in the leafier parts it is easy to pretend this is not happening.

But a closed door will not keep this at bay.


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