'The blame for knife crime lies with austerity'

Don't try to make teachers responsible for tackling knife crime - poverty is the problem, says Anjum Peerbacos

Government wants teachers to take responsibility for tackling knife crime – but the truth is that its own austerity measures are to blame, writes Anjum Peerbacos

It’s been a month or so since the Home Office suggested that teachers take more responsibility in tackling knife crime and youth violence. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Here’s the thing. In a secondary school teaching day, a teacher could see anything from 150 to 200 children in lessons alone. Then there are those in their tutor group, the pupils they interact with during break duty and additional exam groups.

If we think that someone is at risk, we follow (existing) safeguarding procedures, such as, for example, the Prevent programme. Is the government aware that we already do that? You’d think not, or the suggestions wouldn’t have been made in the first place.

Safeguarding concerns range from physical abuse to psychological concerns. I have referred students because of concerns that they are being neglected. I've also referred them for medical and health issues. I've taught students who have been involved with knife crime and stabbings, one of which was tragically fatal. 

As schools, we work with external agencies to ensure that all students are protected and safe. However, we cannot be responsible for what happens to students and young people once they leave the school site at 3.30pm.

Young people, especially teenagers who are not privileged enough to be involved in extracurricular activities, have very few options outside of the school provision. Youth services have been decimated, the youth centres and clubs have disappeared, and teenagers have nowhere safe to go. Safeguarding officers contact social services and the police when young people are at risk of violence and knife crime, but I know from contact that I've had with these services that they're incredibly stretched. The supply simply does not meet the demand.

Poverty and knife crime

Teachers, too, are over-stretched and overworked – this is clearly evident in the wide-scale recruitment and retention crisis. The suggestion of an additional statutory requirement for teachers to notify authorities of "worrying behaviour at school or issues at home" – and the idea to hold them to account if something is missed – will be yet another deterrent in what is already a recruitment catastrophe.

I can’t believe the government has the audacity to suggest we take on yet another responsibility where it has failed so abysmally.

Our local social care services must be funded sufficiently to ensure that our young people can be supported in and out of school.

And schools must be funded sufficiently to support the rise in mental health concerns. We need adequately resourced schools to meet the needs of our young people. This includes supplementing pastoral care, SEND provision and counselling services within schools. Our counselling services via the NHS and the child and adolescent mental health services also need rescuing and should be funded in relation to the increasing demand. Young people should not be waiting weeks and months in order to see a counsellor or therapist.

Our police force and youth services need more money, too. They need to be able to provide the early intervention services for students that are at risk of youth violence – at the moment, they simply can't. 

Youth violence is not solely linked to race or drugs or culture, as some ministers and media outlets would have you believe – the one common factor is poverty. Poverty and deprivation.

Austerity measures are taking a heavy, heavy toll on our schools and, ultimately, the lives of our young people.

Anjum Peerbacos is a secondary English teacher in London

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