Softly, softly in the playground

On-the-spot justice aims to cut pupil arrests.

Measures aimed at reducing the number of children arrested at school are being planned by the Youth Justice Board, after The TES drew attention to the increasing number of pupils being criminalised by police in schools.

A form of on-the-spot restorative justice will be piloted on streets and in schools later this year, in the hope that it will allow officers to deal with low-level incidents without resorting to arrest.

The Safer School scheme, under which police officers patrol schools to manage behaviour, has resulted in pupils as young as 11 being arrested for playground incidents such as bullying and fighting, The TES revealed last autumn.

The "youth restorative justice disposal" scheme would allow officers to mediate between the perpetrator and the victim as an alternative to a formal reprimand, an Asbo or youth court proceedings, the board said.

Last month, Rod Morgan resigned from his post as chairman of the board, complaining that the Government was "swamping" the courts with young offenders.

His successor, interim chairman Graham Robb, conceded that law-makers and enforcers needed to adopt a softer approach.

He said that while Safer School officers were "incredibly helpful", they needed to be rewarded for dealing with incidents informally as well as for arrests. "The Asbo gets the profile, but we want to see a more tiered approach," he said.

The new on-the-spot measures will feed into crime figures, but will not result in a criminal record.

The board are also in discussion with ministers to create warden-patrolled "safe zones" within estates and on school transport, in a bid to tackle gang culture.

"Young people want to feel safe, and one way to do this is to get into a gang. We have to provide an alternative," said Mr Robb.

Zones would be drawn up in collaboration with local teenagers and may include acceptable behaviour contracts between pupils and transport managers, which would allow drivers to order unruly children off buses.

The Children's Society welcomed the schemes, but warned that on-the-spot restorative justice could be difficult as it required "time to sit down and have a meaningful discussion".

"There is also a question mark over whether a police officer would be seen by children as a truly independent mediator," said a spokeswoman.

Mr Robb, a former headteacher, is expected to apply for the permanent chairmanship of the Youth Justice Board, which the Home Office will take a final decision on later this year. If appointed, he is likely to be up against the tough-talking Respect tsar Louise Casey, who believes law-makers "just need to bloody enforce things".

Mr Robb declined to comment on the appointment.

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