Heroic efforts to fight crime

Education Secretary demands more support from families to help tackle bad behaviour and truancy, report Helen Ward and Biddy Passmore

THREE years ago Forest Hill boys comprehensive was in trouble. Truancy was a blight and many children were excluded. In a deprived area with a high crime rate, it struggled to fill its roll.

But last year the south-east London school had more than 500 applications for 227 places.

Head Peter Walsh puts the change down to crime reduction measures that he says transformed his school's image with local parents.

Next month, pupils will launch their own street crime website, streetwiseonline.net, which will highlight the progress they have made.

A midnight basketball club and soccer sessions run by Millwall FC are just two of the evening activities that help keep the young off the streets.

Pupils who take part receive professional coaching in return for taking part in an education programme in which they discuss issues including drug-taking and teenage pregnancy with specialist youth workers.

Two police officers, a schools liaison officer and a beat bobby, work with the pupils to promote mutual trust.

A full-time school counsellor works with youth offending teams (see below) and formulates a personal action plan for pupils who shows signs of becoming serious troublemakers. The Home Office's London crime reduction unit hopes schools across the country will adopt the programmes piloted by Forest Hill.

Mr Walsh said: "Boys here are the most vulnerable when it comes to being victims of crime. The programmes are having a really positive effect measured by the number of vulnerable pupils completing their education successfully."

Joe Clancy

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