Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman has warned that decisions to exclude pupils for bringing knives into London schools do not always take the best interests of that child into account.
The inspectorate also found that some children are more likely to be criminalised for their actions than others and decisions are often made on the basis of children’s background, rather than the risk they pose to others.
And it warned that some schools are not using knife searches or specific education programmes because they are worried about sending the “wrong message” to parents, despite evidence that this “can effectively deter children from bringing weapons into school.”
Quick read: Police link off-rolling to knife crime
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Earlier this year, Ofsted revealed that it would be asking school and college leaders across London about how they are keeping pupils safe from knife crime, in an attempt to tackle the “sickening” problem.
Today, it has published the findings of research responses from more than 100 secondary schools, colleges and pupil referral units across the capital.
It comes amid police claims that rising knife crime is linked to exclusions and off-rolling of pupils.
Ms Spielman said there was a link between exclusions and knife crime but that this did not mean there was causation.
She added: “It seems just as likely that exclusions and knife crime are two symptoms of the same underlying problems, exacerbated by cuts to local authority children’s services.”
However, she raised questions about the way some exclusions are carried out.
In her commentary, she said: “What we found through our research is that exclusion decisions in cases of children bringing a bladed object into school do not always sufficiently take into account the best interests of the child, which have to be balanced against the wider needs of the school community.”
Ofsted said that schools in London are not supported well enough to deal with knife crime.
The inspectorate said schools do not have the ability or the resources to counter the complex social problems behind the rise of knife crime.
These need to be addressed by a range of partners including the police, local authorities and policymakers.
Ofsted’s research looks at how schools, colleges, and pupil referral units (PRUs) in London protect children from knife violence in school, and how they teach pupils to stay safe outside school. The study also examines how exclusions are being used when children bring knives into school.
Earlier this week Ms Spielman rejected suggestions that expulsions of trouble-making pupils are the root cause of a rise in street violence.
Six police and crime commissioners, backed by London mayor Sadiq Khan, have written to prime minister Theresa May warning that a “broken” school exclusion system is linked to a surge in knife crime.
They said that many of those committing offences have been excluded, and called for an end to unofficial "off-rolling" of difficult pupils – the practice of removing difficult pupils from registers to boost average exam results.