Education is the most powerful weapon to tackle knife crime among children, Ann Maguire’s sister has said, as unions warn schools cannot become “prisons” by bringing in metal detectors.
Denise Courtney, younger sister of the 61-year-old teacher who was stabbed to death by a 15-year-old pupil at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds, said she firmly believed in discussion, dialogue, and prevention rather than enforcement measures.
“Education and teaching people was everything to Ann,” she said. “In her eyes, the best way of dealing with the issue of knife crime would be talking about it and raising awareness through education - not technology such as scanners.”
Her comments come after an investigation revealed there has been a 42 per cent increase in the number of children caught with knives in school in the past year.
In The Yorkshire Post yesterday teacher Vincent Uzomah, who was stabbed by a 14-year-old pupil in Bradford in 2015, called for lessons to be introduced into the curriculum, with anonymous text message services set up.
Today, Ms Courtney echoes his call, adding: “In Ann’s situation, the culprit talked about what he was going to do that morning but the other children clearly did not believe him and thought it was just bravado. There should be a forum where children can go and report these things without fear of repercussion. There should be safe places for children to go if they feel there is a threat.”
The Ben Kinsella Trust, which campaigns against knife crime, said metal detectors and body scanners can act as a reassurance to pupils that they are entering a place of safety. Patrick Green, trust manager said: “Body scanners and knife wands give a very strong message to young people.
“Pupils know they are going into a safe environment when there is a scanner and it is also a deterrent to those who may
have been thinking of carrying a knife.”
But Anne Swift, ex president of the National Union of Teachers and former headteacher of
Gladstone Road Primary in Scarborough, said such measures should only be temporary if there is a known threat: “We want schools to be safe places where children can air their thoughts and feelings. There is very little slack in the curriculum to have those conversations with young people. It perhaps reflects society as a whole that some young people feel they need to carry a weapon.”
And Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), says the focus needs to be on tackling the root causes of knife possession.
“We do not want to turn our schools into prisons with knife scanners and pupil searches,” she said. “Schools want to be part of solving the problem of knife crime but, to do so, they need the resources and time in the curriculum and support from other agencies to be able to pick up issues and educate young people about the dangers.
Dr Bousted said that most schools were “safe places”. But she said schools were struggling to offer “extra support” to those at risk of falling into crime because of cuts to youth services across the UK.
Her views echo those of
London mayor Sadiq Kahn who, earlier this month, said the capital was “paying a heavy price” for closing 30 youth centres since 2011. Mr Khan had offered knife wands to state secondary schools in the capital but there has only been a 15 per cent take-up rate so far.
Dr Bousted said: “Government cuts have slashed child and adolescent mental health services and social and behaviour support services, increased poverty and cut school funding, so the help and support available to schools is either non-existent or severely diminished.”
Sheffield schools install security arches on police advice
Security arches - which can detect if someone is carrying a knife or gun - have been installed at schools across Sheffield on police advice.
In July, it was revealed that the arches, which are metal detectors often seen at airports and which are commonplace in many American high schools, had been temporarily sited at Parkwood E-ACT Academy in Shirecliffe as part of a police operation to crackdown on knife crime after a man was shot and another stabbed during clashes between rival Somalian and Kurdish gangs in the city.
During the two days the arches were in place, no knives and guns were found at the school and no weapons placed in amnesty bins placed around the premises.
South Yorkshire Police said at the time it intended to roll out the temporary siting of the arches at a number of other schools around the city from September as part of its knife crime education work.
Michael Smith MBE, a former police officer who runs charity Word 4 Weapons, said school leaders councils in some areas of the country are reluctant to tackle knife use and accept amnesty bins his organisation can provide as they fear the potential impact on their reputation.
He said: “When we go to some areas we are met with opposition, not just from schools but from the local authority. They think if you put a knife bin on the street it means you have a bad area.”
Mr Smith believes the reinforced amnesty bins could seriously reduce the number of weapons in the UK if funding would allow him to extend beyond London and the West Midlands where the charity’s work currently takes place.
“People depositing the weapons aren’t always criminals. It could be a mother or a father, or just someone who has found it. If in the UK, we had two, three, or four knife bins in each borough - what would be the excuse to carry a weapon?”
Under current guidance, pupils can be searched in school for prohibited items including knives, drugs and stolen goods, only if teachers have “reasonable grounds” to suspect them.
The guidance, issued this month for English schools, says this includes if pupils are heard talking about what they have or if they are thought to be hiding a weapon. People searching pupils can require they remove outer clothing and search their pockets - and can use force.
When it comes to body scanners and wands, schools can use them to screen pupils as they enter premises, even if they are not suspected of having weapons.