Teachers could be held accountable for failing to "spot warning signs" of violent crime among young people, under government proposals revealed today.
Home secretary Sajid Javid floated the idea of a so-called "public health duty" in an effort to ensure "every part of the system works together to support young people".
The government said such a duty is intended to help spot the 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".
A consultation will assess the extent to which those on the front line, including teachers, nurses and police officers, will be held to account for failing to prevent a young person getting involved in violence, a Home Office spokesman said.
But teaching unions have warned that scapegoating and blaming teachers will not resolve the issue.
'Disease rotting society'
The idea has been put forward a day after Mr Javid granted police new powers to increase stop and search activity following a spate of bloodshed across London and the rest of England since the start of 2019.
Mr Javid said: "Violent crime is like a disease rotting our society and it's essential that all public bodies work together to treat the root causes.
"The public health, multi-agency approach has a proven track record and I'm confident that making it a legal duty will help stop this senseless violence and create long-term change."
But Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: “All professionals involved with children and young people are well aware of their responsibilities for safeguarding their health and welfare.
“Violent crime involving young people, of course, needs to be taken seriously and appropriate strategies considered. However, this is a complex issue which will not be resolved by putting additional pressures and responsibilities on teachers and headteachers or, indeed, others.
“It is concerning that a narrative appears to be developing whereby schools excluding pupils are potentially being scapegoated as being part of the problem, with exclusion being cited as a reason for pupils becoming involved in knife crime and gangs.
“Threatening staff such as teachers, who already have a difficult and challenging job, that they will be held accountable for failing to spot any warning signs of violent crime is an unacceptable response and will simply add to the myriad of government-driven factors which are causing teachers to leave the profession and deterring potential recruits from applying."
'Strong safeguarding practices in place'
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teachers' union, said: “Neither the blame for or the solution to violent crime can be laid at the door of schools or front-line hospital staff.
"Schools already have strong safeguarding practices in place and staff will be alerted to any issues of concern. The problem is what happens after issues of concern have been identified. Schools have lost pastoral support, special needs teachers and school counsellors.
“Too many families and communities have suffered the devastating consequences of violent crime. It needs real solutions put in place to prevent yet more incidents occurring – solutions that address the causes and not just the symptoms."
Theresa May, who will host a serious youth violence summit in Downing Street today, will also meet privately with the families of a number of victims of knife crime to listen to their first-hand experiences of this issue.
The prime minister said: "To bring about lasting change and protect young people from the tragic violence we have seen on our streets, we need to work across society to intervene early and stop them from being drawn into crime.
"Strong law enforcement plays an important role, and the police will continue to have our support on the front line, but we all need to look at what we can do in our communities, and in every part of the system, to safeguard young people.
"That is why our plans to introduce a whole community – or 'public health' – approach are designed to identify more young people at risk."
More than 100 experts will meet to explore the scope and impact of new ideas while kick-starting a further programme of action.
They include Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick, Patrick Green from the Ben Kinsella Trust, and Baroness Newlove, the victims' commissioner for England and Wales, whose husband Garry was beaten to death by a gang vandalising his car in 2007.
The consultation, mooted by Mr Javid in the Commons four weeks ago, will be open from today until 28 May to the public and professionals across the UK.
Ms May came under fire last month after she suggested that police cuts were not to blame for a spate of fatal stabbings on teenagers.
Javed Khan, boss of children's charity Barnardo's, said the Downing Street summit "must look at long-term solutions" and commit public funding to tackle violence.
He said: "We need a concerted effort to tackle the profound 'poverty of hope' amongst vulnerable children and young people who see little or no chance of a positive future."