A teacher stabbed and almost killed in a classroom attack has called on education authorities to take action in tackling a rising tide of knife crime in the nation’s schools.
Vincent Uzomah, from Leeds, was stabbed by a 14-year-old pupil in a pre-planned and racist attack as he taught at a school in Bradford in 2015.
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. Anonymous reporting systems such as text services could be crucial, he said, in allowing pupils to raise fears and potentially prevent future tragedies from happening.
“I could have died,” he said. “I actually thought I was dying. All I could think of was all the things I wanted to do. My wife, my children, my little one. That I didn’t say goodbye to my family.
“The boy that stabbed me had told his friends what he was going to do,” he added. “We have so many good children in schools, they would report if they weren’t afraid to. Let the children know the consequences of such acts. There are so many ways to bring about change.”
Dr Uzomah’s calls come as an investigation, following a series of high-profile attacks in schools including the murder of Leeds teacher Ann Maguire, reveals a growing threat of knife crime in Yorkshire and nationwide.
Over the past five years, data obtained under Freedom of Information laws has revealed, more than 2,000 pupils have been caught carrying knives in school, with a 42 per cent increase in the number of cases reported to police in the last full school year.
Across Yorkshire, more than 650 knife crimes have been reported in schools with, on average, a child caught carrying a knife in school every single week.
“These are frightening statistics,” said Solicitor General Robert Buckland QC.
“The message still has to get through to young people that carrying a knife for your own protection is probably the most dangerous thing you can do.”
In South Yorkshire, where the number of children caught carrying knives in schools has soared, detectives said it was difficult to determine why it was happening.
Detective Superintendent Una Jennings, from South Yorkshire Police, said: “It is a sad fact that more and more young people are choosing to carry dangerous weapons, which is simply unacceptable and we need to raise vital awareness of the risks of carrying guns and knives.”
Sarah Jones, chairman of an All Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime, warned that cuts to youth services are also piling extra pressure on schools.
She said: “My fear is that a generation of young people are growing up desensitised to violence. We know we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. Schools are working under very difficult circumstances as real-terms funding cuts bite.”
Dr Uzomah, 52, had been attacked by the pupil as he prepared for the day’s lessons at Dixons Kings Academy, in Bradford, in June 2015.
The boy, who had been disruptive in the class and refused to put away a mobile phone, had stabbed him in his side as he wrote on the board.
“It was a horrifying experience,” he said. “To know that the children, the ones you are trying to educate, could turn around and try and kill you.
“He came at me from behind, and stabbed me. A hand hit me, very hard, in my tummy. As he held his hand out I saw he was holding a knife, six inches long, stained with my blood.
“Later, in court, his friends said it was because I was black. I have a right to be alive. Even if you don’t like me, I have the right to live.
“Children should be taught to respect one another.”
More should be done to prevent knife crime in schools, Dr Uzomah believes, with systems in place to protect children.
“Every school has a programme called citizenship,” he said. “An aspect of the consequences of knife crime could be incorporated into lessons. I would volunteer to do that myself.
“Educate not just the children, but the parents as well. There are weapons in every kitchen.”
It’s been two-and-a-half years since he was left in his classroom to die, crawling to the school’s reception desk for help and whispering final messages to be passed to his wife.
He was broken by what happened to him, he said. By the physical act, but also by the knowledge that it had been a child who wielded the weapon.
The impact on his family has been devastating, he said, and he fears for his own children who have now had first-hand experience of knife crime in schools.
“That emotional impact is still there,” he said. “I find it hard to trust people. Sometimes, when I park my car in a lonely place, I’m afraid to get out.
“I’m gradually coming out of it, trying to move on. But the thought is always there, the flashbacks. I can’t just walk away. That’s something I have to live with.”
His wife, also a teacher in Leeds, became afraid and, when a boy in her own school was caught with a knife, found she was too frightened to teach him.
“My family could feel it,” he said. “Financially, everybody washed their hands of us.
“I lost wages, I wasn’t going to work. I have lost, in all aspects. We suffered alone.”
The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was handed an 11-year extended term in custody after he admitted causing grievous bodily harm with intent.
“I’m a Christian,” said Dr Uzomah. “For that purpose, I forgive him. I’m grateful for my life.
“I survived. If I didn’t forgive, the pain would weigh heavy in my heart.”