Crime in Yorkshire's schools on rise four years on from Leeds teacher's murder in classroom

THE number of crimes committed in Yorkshire's schools has risen dramatically since the fatal stabbing of Leeds teacher Ann Maguire four years ago, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.

Mourners lay flowers in memory of teacher Ann Maguire, killed in 2014 at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds. Photo: Ross Parry / SWNS Group.
Mourners lay flowers in memory of teacher Ann Maguire, killed in 2014 at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds. Photo: Ross Parry / SWNS Group.

Police commissioners have expressed alarm at the rising levels of crime within schools, with West Yorkshire commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson saying the Government needed to act to “potentially prevent a generation from entering into criminal activity”.

His county saw violent offences in schools quadruple since 2014, the year in which Mrs Maguire was murdered in a classroom, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show.

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New types of online and phone offences are likely to be fuelling some of the rise in overall crime in schools, North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan said.

Source: Police forces/Freedom of Information

But she warned against unnecessarily criminalising young people, which she said could send them “into a spiral of criminality that blights their life forever”.

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings said schools may also now be more willing to call the police than they had been in years gone by, which he said was only right, “because it’s not fair on all the other kids in the school”.

But commissioners in South, West and East Yorkshire all warned that some schools, particularly academies run outside of local authority control, were too quick to expel problem pupils, which they said was exacerbating the problem.

Humberside PCC Keith Hunter said the current system gave "incentives for academies especially, but not exclusively, to remove what they see as problem children on their premises to the detriment of the wider community".

Vincent Uzomah, who was stabbed in a Bradford classroom in 2015, has called for lessons around the potentially devastating consequences of carrying weapons to be incorporated into the curriculum.

Mrs Mulligan, a former governor of an academy school, disputed the claim that academies were quicker to expel troubled children, saying they were "as committed as ever to their pupils - to suggest otherwise risks a disservice to their dedicated teachers, staff and leaders".

Coroner sounds alarm

Ofsted itself had been urged to take action against violence in schools after Mrs Maguire’s murder.

Kevin McLoughlin, now senior coroner for West Yorkshire, wrote a Report to Prevent Future Deaths following an inquest into her death.

His report, published earlier this year, called on the body to introduce dedicated checks of a school’s ability to keep pupils and staff safe from violent attack as part of its standard inspections.

In it, Mr McLoughlin said there seemed to be “widespread variation” in the way schools managed the risk associated with weapons.

Responding at the time, Ofsted said it was due to issue a revised inspection framework in September of next year and the coroner’s request would be considered as part of that review.

Asked by The Yorkshire Post what progress had been made since then, Ofsted said its consultation would begin early next year.

But a spokesman said the safety of pupils “will always be an integral part of our inspections”.

He said: “As part of inspections, we consider a school’s safeguarding procedures and would expect there to be processes in place to ensure staff and pupils are safe.

“During our conversations with pupils, which form a part of every inspection, it would be normal practice for inspectors to discuss the school’s procedures, whether pupils feel safe and are aware of how they can raise their concerns about safety to teachers and school leaders.”

Killed in her classroom

Many crimes recorded at schools in Yorkshire are low-level offences such as criminal damage or petty theft.

However, there have been a number of very serious incidents in recent years.

In April 2014, 61-year-old Spanish teacher Ann Maguire was stabbed to death by her 15-year-old pupil Will Cornick in front of horrified classmates at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds, where she had taught for 41 years.

It remains the only case in which a teacher has been killed by a pupil in a British classroom.

However, the following year, Vincent Uzomah, from Leeds, was stabbed by a 14-year-old pupil in a pre-planned and racist attack as he taught at Dixons Kings Academy in Bradford.

The father of three, now a university lecturer, has called for lessons around the potentially devastating consequences of carrying weapons to be incorporated into the curriculum.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post earlier this year, he said: “It was a horrifying experience. To know that the kids, the ones you are trying to educate, could turn around and try and kill you.

“I could have died. I actually thought I was dying. All I could think of was all the things I wanted to do. My wife, my kids, my little one. That I didn’t say goodbye to my family.”

In September last year, welfare officer Joy Simon, 61, was stabbed in the face and chest at Winterton Community Academy, Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire. Sixteen-year-old schoolgirl

Elisha Burkill was sentenced to seven years in custody earlier this year, but has since lodged an appeal against the sentence.

In July of this year, two 15-year-old boys who plotted to gun down innocent classmates in a replica version of the 1999 Columbine massacre were given 10 and 12-year custodial sentences.

Would-be murderers Thomas Wyllie and Alex Bolland were said to have “hero-worshipped” Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the teenagers who took up arms and killed 13 people at the Columbine High School in Colorado before taking their own lives.

The two boys, who were just 14 at the time of the plotting, were so serious about carrying out their own version of the attack at their school in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, that they had drawn up a “hit-list” of targets - which included students who had bullied and wronged them, as well as teachers.

In September, a Sheffield school was put on lockdown after a fight escalated into a full scale riot. Police were greeted with a chaotic scene at Fir Vale School, where some parents had reportedly taken weapons and many were trying to scale the fences.

Sexting and knife crime

Some of the increase in crime in schools can be attributed to better recording, police forces said.

In North Yorkshire, for instance, officers have in recent years led a push to educate schools and youth groups about issues such as knife crime, the dangers of drugs and the growing issue of ‘sexting’ - the exchange of sexual images via phones - between minors.

Sergeant Neil Northend, who manages North Yorkshire Police’s Youth Officers and works with schools across the force area, said this focused work will have encouraged more teachers and youth workers to report incidents of concern.

He said: “This has enabled us to develop good working relationships with schools and has helped us to support school staff in feeling more confident in reporting and dealing with incidents.”

Superintendent Justine Plumb of West Yorkshire Police said her force now had dedicated officers in more than a third of West Yorkshire’s secondary schools.

She added: “The force has recently supported a national initiative, Operation Sceptre, in relation to knife crime.

“Officers from all five districts went into schools to engage and deliver knife crime awareness training in schools in a bid to prevent offences.”

The Humberside force area was the only place which saw a drop in recorded crime in schools over the past five years.

Head of Crime for Humberside Police, Detective Chief Superintendent Lisa Atkinson, said: “Working closely with our schools builds trust and confidence in us, and while we welcome the statistics that highlights a decrease in incidents in the Humberside area, we will not be complacent as any recorded crime in a school is one too many and we will do all we can to keep reducing the number of offences to protect our young people.”

Violent offences

The number of crimes at the region’s schools has increased by 50 per cent since 2014, figures obtained by The Yorkshire Post show.

There were 6,856 crimes recorded as taking place at a school in Yorkshire and the Humber last year.

West Yorkshire Police provided detailed data showing the number of crimes recorded at its schools had doubled from 2014 to 2017, with more than a third of last year’s offences violent in nature.

South Yorkshire had the second highest number of crimes in schools, with 1,829 recorded last year, a 57 per cent rise since 2014.

Of the region’s four forces, only Humberside Police saw the number of crimes in schools fall. Last year, there were 1,615 crimes, a three per cent reduction compared with 2014.

In North Yorkshire, there were 545 crimes recorded at schools last year, 60 per cent more than in 2014.