Survey discovers numerous pupils are involved with knife and drug gangs

27 Aug

I           Survey Findings

In Spring Term 2020 (shortly before the lockdown), The Times carried out a survey of nearly 1,300 mainly secondary schools and academies covering 500,000 (circa) pupils in England and discovered that staff believed that many of them were being “groomed by gangs and exploited by drug dealers”.   They added that a number of these young people were bringing zombie knives, hammers and knuckle-dusters into the classrooms.

About three in five secondaries searched the children at least once weekly with “metal wands and sniffer dogs”. Altogether, 52% of these searches resulted in staff finding pupils carrying weapons. In an academy in Middleborough, teachers searched pupils 60 times in 2018/19 and found six weapons. About 24% of these institutions referred pupils to the police and/or social services in the 2018/19 academic year and 33% believed that the pupils were involved with gangs.

It was not only institutions in deprived areas that fell victim to the problem. Schools and academies rated good by Ofsted and located in affluent areas were also hit by what is turning out to be a social epidemic.

The survey revealed that (unsurprisingly) this was impacting negatively on children’s learning according to 29% of the secondaries and 11% of the primaries that responded. The upshot has been that teachers are in the vanguard of protecting pupils.  One secondary in North London had staff members taking work to the homes of teenagers, with others walking them to school/academy.

II          Pupils’ Perspective

Several pupils were interviewed.  Half said that they felt safer carrying knives to protect themselves from intimidating attackers or to help friends in difficult situations.  Forty per cent had been searched or knew of friends who had been. Half of those were annoyed about this.

When asked why they thought young people carry knives, two thirds replied that it was for protection.  “Just under half thought it was due to peer pressure. A third of respondents believed it was out of fear.”

In broad terms, pupils felt safe at their schools/academies.  Private security guards were now a familiar sight at the institutions’ gates, making at least 60% of the youngsters feel secure.  However, some felt intimidated by the presence of private security.  Other pupils suggested tougher measures like CCTV cameras, metal detectors and bag searches.  A number called on the authorities to make it harder to buy knives and for bans or licences for those who carry large weapons.

 

One youngster rued the fact that when pupils were thrown out of school/academy for a violent crime, “they end up in worse places”.  He was of the view that the schools/academies at which they were pupils should help them change.

Pupils were conscious of the dangers they faced when outside of their institutions.   A 14-year-old said: “You always have to be aware, especially when by yourself.  You don’t know what might happen.”  Several wanted more positive role models in their communities including external “speakers who have experienced violent acts to raise awareness”.

III        Reactions of the “movers and shakers”

The great and the good commented on these findings.

(1)        The children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, expressed deep concern stating that more needed to be done to protect our young people from gangs.  The pandemic would have probably exacerbated the situation because of the upheaval that the lockdown would have created with vulnerable pupils losing out on the structured working day.

Altogether, 85% of secondaries had lessons on drugs and gangs and 34% of primaries were teaching children about knife violence and gangs.

“This investigation shows how criminal gangs operating in England are ruthless organisations, using sophisticated grooming to lure children in and then using violence to keep them compliant,” Mrs Longfield told The Times. “Thousands of children in towns and cities across England are at real risk and the same attention must be paid to protecting them as to other major threats to children. The government must ensure resources are allocated to stop children becoming involved in gangs.”

The Ministry of Justice revealed that in 2019, 4,547 children aged from 10 to 17 years had either been convicted or received a caution for knife crime.  In 2013, the figure was 2,629.

(2)        Robert Halfon, chair of the education committee, invited ministers in home affairs, culture and education to form a cabinet committee and tackle the issue with more investment. “If you had police cadets or army cadets in schools, if you invested in youth activities in the evenings, if you clearly identified these troubled families, you could clearly make a difference,” he told Times Radio.

(3)        Vicky Ford, the children’s minister, said: “We are placing social workers in more than 150 schools to help teachers identify and support pupils most at risk.”

(4)        Chief Constable Jo Shiner, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for children and young people, observed: “Crime of any sort has absolutely no place in learning environments and is a challenge we are working with schools and others to address on a daily basis.”

(5)        Geoff Barton, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, remarked that schools and academies worked hard to educate children about the dangers of gangs and the county lines drug trade. “We need to see a more concerted effort from national government to work with multiple agencies to address the causes of this problem.”

IV        Tailpiece

And shortly after The Times published its survey, on 8 August 2020 in broad daylight at 5.30 p.m. and, in front of horrified shoppers, a 17-year-old lad, Jeremy Menesses of Colombian descent, was chased down Oxford Street, a busy shopping area,  stabbed him to death.  Three 18-year-old men from South London were arrested on suspicion of murder when they turned up at a hospital with superficial stab injuries.   The police suspect that the murder was gang related.  This was the 10th teenager murdered in the capital this year, nine of whom had been stabbed.

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