The Home Office is to ban the possession of knives in further education colleges, with a change to existing laws being implemented in the coming weeks as part of a new crackdown on knife crime.
The government will extend the existing ban on schools, which has been in force since 1996, to cover FE colleges, in what Home Office officials regard as the closing of a legal loophole.
In a statement yesterday, the Whitehall department said: “Banning the possession of a knife on a further education premises” would be among a number of measures taken to tackle serious violence in society.
New law proposed
Mounting concern over the scale of the problem has prompted the government to announce an Offensive Weapons Bill.
The legislation will ban the sale of acid to under-18s, as well as placing restrictions on online sales of knives. It will also become a criminal offence to possess corrosive substances in a public place, the Home Office announced.
The move is part of a wider response to rising levels of violent crime, with a spate of killings in recent months seeing London’s murder rate exceeding that of New York.
A serious-violence strategy, to be launched tomorrow, will “mark a major shift in the government’s response to knife crime and gun crime, and strike a balance between prevention and robust law enforcement”, according to the Home Office.
Home secretary Amber Rudd said: “This government has always stood for law and order, and to tackle violent crime effectively, robust legislation and powerful law enforcement must be in place.”
Extending the existing ban on carrying knives in school to FE colleges was first proposed as part of a wider consultation held late last year on new laws to tackle offensive and dangerous weapons.
It stated: “This change reflects the significant expansion of the number of students and changes in such institutions since the law was amended by the 1996 Act.”
An impact assessment of the policy change said: “Education practitioners and student bodies will need to become aware of the law in order to ensure that they understand in what circumstances their staff and students may be breaking the law and make aware to any person in their premises of the legislation and the need to have a good reason in order to be in possession of a knife on the premises.”
Mary Vine-Morris, national lead for employment at the Association of Colleges, said: “Colleges are only too aware of the devastating consequences of knife crime, and work daily to safeguard their learners and to help them to make positive decisions about their lifestyle choices.”
Andrew Harden, national head of FE at the University and College Union, said: “The safety of staff and students in FE is of paramount importance, so measures to improve that are welcome although more detail is needed about how the proposals would be enforced.
“Further clarity is also needed in relation to courses like cookery, where knives are used regularly in a professional context.”
The government also needs to look at the causes of crime, according to NUS president Shakira Martin. She commented: “It is not enough to have shiny new legislation and a hard stance on law enforcement. Those affected are predominantly from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and black. The government must address the specific issues facing these groups.
“Cuts to vital youth services and no real strategic plan for community cohesion efforts have led to a breakdown; unfortunately, it is young people feeling the consequences most acutely.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told Tes: “If what this is doing is both giving reassurance about safety in schools and colleges, but also acting as an increasing form of deterrence, then that’s going to be a good thing.
“But what we don’t want is people thinking that, when you say goodbye to your child when they go to school or college, they are going to a place that is inherently dangerous. That is patently not the case.”