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Act now, staff told, before they end up in court

TEACHERS are to be asked to identify disruptive pupils who they believe could become career criminals.

They will also be asked to co-operate with early intervention programmes designed to keep young troublemakers on the straight and narrow.

The schemes, part of a Government drive to tackle youth crime, will involve youth offending teams being assigned to support pupils before they end up in court.

A crime reduction unit based in London has spent more than a year researching "best practices" and encouraging councils to try out schemes working with secondary schools. At present, attempts to rehabilitate young criminals begin only after they have appeared in court, by which time, the unit believes, it is often too late.

Ellie Roy, unit director, said: "The school is the key factor, the hub, of our initiatives. There is a high correlation between truancy, exclusion and the rising rate of street crime.

"If we can take the right steps at the right time, we believe we have a chance of nipping the criminal tendencies of young offenders in the bud.

"That would lead to teachers teaching and children learning in less intimidating and scary environments. We think there are real gains to be made for schools."

She said the new approach could lead to the youth teams taking over responsibility for school discipline, dealing with behaviour that would normally lead to fixed-term exclusions.

"We want teachers to see these (teams) as an additional resource supporting them in managing the behaviour of a vast range of pupils."

Intervention initiatives under consideration include a "restorative justice" system where the offender makes recompense to the victim in a way agreed by both parties, their parents and the school.

A second involves tackling truancy as soon as it begins and could involve encouraging schools to appoint home-liaison officers. They would contact parents of children who do not attend school on the first day of their absence.

Other schemes would expand the curriculum to engage disaffected pupils with subjects such as sport, music, photography and a programme offering after-school and holiday activities.

Pilot projects for these programmes have already been carried out in secondary schools throughout Britain and have had positive results.

The National Union of Teachers gave a cautious welcome to the proposals, although it was concerned they might be an extra burden on busy staff. John Bangs, the union's head of education, said: "The question teachers will ask is how can they bolt this on to everything else they have to do for young people?

"But if teachers are given the time to do it and the cost of their liaisons with external agencies are taken into account, then it is a welcome approach."

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