Crime shame of a quarter of our pupils

Nic Barnard

Survey shows it's not just the excluded who offend. Nic Barnard reports

MORE young people are committing crime, with those excluded from school the worst offenders, new figures show.

A MORI survey conducted for the Youth Justice Board found 25 per cent of regular school attenders admitted having committed a crime in the past year. The figure last year was only 22 per cent.

Worryingly, the survey found increases for almost all types of crime, from fare dodging - admitted by half of all pupils - to violence. Some 31 per cent admitted involvement in physical assaults compared to 24 per cent last year.

Vandalism went up from 29 per cent to 34 per cent, while shoplifting increased from 15 per cent to 23 per cent. Numbers admitting handling stolen goods rose from 19 per cent to 25 per cent.

But the figures were three times higher for excluded pupils. Six out of 10 admitted assaults, vandalism or shoplifting and four in 10 said they had carried a knife in the past year. A quarter admitted burglary, compared to just 7 per cent among regular school attenders.

A separate study for the board - set up last year to oversee every aspect of the youth justice system from cautions to detention - underlined the poor basic skills of offenders. Half of those in custody had a reading age of 11 or under, and a quarter were 10 years behind in numeracy.

The figures will make worrying reading for ministers. Former education secretary David Blunkett highlighted the links between poor basic skills, school attendance and crime as long ago as 1997, but four years on, little appears to have changed.

The board, which this week issued its annual report, will later this year launch a major programme to tackle poor basic skills and overhaul the education programmes for youths in custody.

MORI surveyed 5,200 pupils aged 11-16 and 500 excluded pupils who were attending educational programmes.

Robert Newman, the board's director of strategic development for secure accommodation, said strides had already been made. Young people in custody, once locked up for 23 hours a day, were now entitled to 30 hours of education, training and personal development each week.

But the board had to lift the quality of education and improve links with other services. Many sentences are too short for education programmes to make much impact.

Shambles of prison schooling, 24

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Nic Barnard

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