The independent London newspaper

There are serious lessons to be learned in combating knife crime

21 March, 2019

• RISING numbers of knife crimes in the last year have been widely debated, looking for sources and solutions. Moving on from blaming single causes, such as cuts to the police force, a growing consensus points to the recognition of the deeper and more complex reasons for the actions causing knife crime.

Disadvantaged areas and the young people who live in them, have suffered a succession of austerity measures dating from 2010, including decimated youth services, depleted mental health resources, reductions in support for care leavers and extensive cuts in educational provision especially in secondary and further education.

The consequence is a long tail of low achievers in secondary school, and rising rates of school exclusion in an increasingly unregulated education system. Schools are more or less free to exclude children likely to damage their prospects of high test results and top grading in Ofsted inspections.

The excluded teenager is just a step away from the gang membership that will help give him or her a sense of identity while shoring up anger and resentment.

Such exclusions typically involve movement of young people to “pupil referral units”, which can severely disrupt the course of their educational careers.

Yet the process of school exclusion may have no elements of judicial “due process” behind it, merely relying on head teacher judgment of what is in the school’s and their interest alone.

What is the protocol, and where are the school governors and inspectors in approving such decisions in local authority schools let alone in academies and free schools?

When, if ever, does the young transgressor or their parents have the right to appeal? This lack of transparency and accountability should be a major matter of concern yet government turns a blind eye to it.

New strategies are needed to reverse the journey to criminality of which the Scottish experience in achieving a reversal of trends in knife crime supplies a useful example.

The approach dispenses with intensified police “stop-and search” in favour of treating knife crime as a public health issue.

New support structures are put in place, based on collaboration between health professionals, law enforcement, social services and third sector organisations to thwart violent behaviour before it becomes entrenched.

No doubt some of the aspects of Scotland’s success in addressing knife crime are arguably unique to Scotland. But there are also lessons relevant for the rest of the major UK cities in general and London in particular. Tackling the issue of knife crime needs the combined effort of multiple agencies, government departments, health services and the police.

The aim should be to enable young people to participate in society and to create for them opportunities for fulfilling activities and venues where they can experience a sense of belonging and see that their concerns matter.

This includes the provision of viable employment opportunities, enabling them to earn a living with gainful employment and to develop a positive outlook on the future.

Anything less is a denial of these young people’s citizenship. Not asking too much you might think for the sixth biggest economy in the world.

UCL Institute of Education


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