Gangs are getting children to carry knives into zero-tolerance schools in order to get them excluded so they can be "groomed", according to Ofsted.
Headteachers have been warned they “must do better” in taking proactive steps to protect children from gang members by Mike Sheridan, Ofsted’s regional director for London, in a piece written for The Sunday Times.
Mr Sheridan says that while schools are safe places and serious incidents are very rare, there has been an increase in knife crime in London and the inspectorate has looked into how schools are dealing with the issue.
Ofsted’s research shows that schools have very different ways of dealing with discipline – and in London, where schools are close together and gang territories overlap, that leads to problems.
“I was concerned to hear from some parents that gangs are taking advantage of these differences by targeting pupils in schools that take a zero-tolerance approach to knives,” Mr Sheridan writes.
“They are doing this by, for example, getting children to take a knife into school or to break another rule that gets them excluded. Once this happens, children are more vulnerable to being groomed by the gang.
“This raises a red flag. Zero-tolerance policies can be extremely effective, but schools need to take proactive steps to protect children from gang members who seek to exploit these rules to build their empires,” he added.
He also said there were some headteachers who worried that taking action or talking about knife crime would be to admit their school had an issue – an attitude he described as “depressing”, saying that such schools had lost sight of their job of teaching children how to stay safe.
The warning comes after a major children’s charity and a group of MPs said that pupils who had been excluded from school might be at serious risk of being sucked into knife crime and gang violence.
A survey of English local authorities by Barnardo’s and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime found that a third have no free places for excluded students in pupil referral units.