Schools “can only do so much” to stop knife crime, Ofsted has warned, as the government proposed making it a “legal duty” for schools to take action to prevent violent crime.
Ofsted’s warning has extra significance because the government has suggested that schools and other public bodies could be “held accountable” for this new duty through inspection.
Yesterday, the Home Office launched a consultation on whether there should be a “new legal duty to support the multi-agency action needed to prevent and tackle serious violence”, following a spate of knife-related bloodshed since the start of 2019.
The government said the duty would encourage public-sector workers to spot “warning signs that a young person could be in danger, such as presenting in A&E with a suspicious injury, to worrying behaviour at school or issues at home".
However, teaching unions have raised concerns that the move is part of a developing “narrative” whereby schools are being “scapegoated” for knife crime.
The Home Office’s consultation suggests that the new duty could be backed up by inspection.
One passage in the consultation document says that the new multi-agency approach would involve “organisations being held accountable for their work on serious violence, including being subject to inspections either by their relevant inspectorates, or possibly through joint inspections”.
Later in the document, it says: "The relevant inspectorates covering the organisations subject to the duty or joint inspections may be able to check how far they are complying with the new duty."
However, Ofsted has repeatedly warned against both expecting schools to provide solutions to deep-rooted social problems, and adding extra subjects to its inspection remit.
In December 2018, Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said: "While schools can play a role in educating young people about the danger of knives, they cannot be a panacea for this particular societal ill."
And in March 2018 she highlighted “knife awareness” in a list of topics which people had tried to thrust into the Ofsted inspection framework. “Every time we add something to our framework, we dilute the focus on the substance of education and we create more work for schools,” she said.
Asked whether Ofsted would welcome the role set out in the consultation in inspecting schools on the new duty, a spokesperson said: “We welcome any initiative to tackle the rise in youth violence, and Amanda Spielman was pleased to take part in the recent Number 10 knife crime summit.
“But as we have said before, countering the complex societal problems behind the rise in violence needs concerted action from a range of partner agencies – schools can only do so much.
“We will consider the Home Office’s consultation and the proposals for inspection carefully.”