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Stop, look and listen for pupils' weapons

My chair of governors recently remarked that the weapons of mass destruction were to be found in my cupboards. She was referring to the stash of confiscated weapons my colleagues and I have collected over the years. We had one particularly difficult year when race and gang warfare was tearing our community apart and most of the weapons had been collected during that period.

We did not need high-tech scanners orX-ray machines to find them. We were informed by fellow pupils as to who was carrying what. They had conveniently managed to show others in the class what they were carrying and tell them what they intended to do with them. We were then able to take appropriate action to resolve the conflicts. Thankfully, the weapons were never used.

The tragic murder of Luke Walmsley earlier this year led to calls for action ranging from high-tech weapon checks in the form of X-ray scanners, and a zero tolerance policy for those caught with weapons. Yet the sad fact is that several pupils knew that Alan Pennell was carrying a knife and that he had threatened Luke. Why did nobody listen and step in to prevent the tragedy? Hindsight is only useful if we learn from it. Instead of setting up hi-tech schemes to stop youngsters bringing in weapons, let's try listening to them instead.

If a young person wants to hurt another pupil they will do so unless we resolve the issues. X-ray scanners will not stop them attacking the victim outside school. Weapons can easily be hidden behind bushes, bins, etc. We need to work to ensure that the community is safe and that pupils can travel to and from school in safety.

It is also essential that they are safe in their homes and not vulnerable on their estates. If Luke had been murdered on the streets or on a local estate we would have had a different response.

In the same way we tackle bullying in schools, we need to encourage our young people to be proactive in supporting each other. They need to be encouraged and enabled to listen to each other and to tell if they think that somebody is in danger. Schools must listen. We also need to develop the skills of conflict resolution and to train staff and pupils to participate. Issues that are left unresolved will fester and turn into something violent.

Our school is part of the Safer School Partnership and we are lucky enough to have our own school-based police officer. He does not (usually) search pupils for weapons or drugs. Instead he works with other staff and pupils on conflict resolution and restorative justice techniques. This helps us to intervene quickly and stop issues escalating.

If we have information that someone is carrying a weapon, my senior staff will take the pupil out of class and get them to empty out bags and pockets. We don't do a full body search (we are not allowed to), but we usually come up with the goods.

The murder of Luke Walmsley in a small rural school was a wake-up call to us all. The general public and the media might have felt easier if the tragedy had happened in an inner-city school. This would have fitted the stereotype. Such an incident would have confirmed what everybody knew (or thought they knew) about such schools. Instead, the public and media have had to look further afield for someone to blame. The fact is a similar tragedy could happen in any school.

We work with large numbers of young people in a very pressured situation.

We live in an increasingly disorganised and violent society. Our role as educators is to concentrate on making our young people emotionally intelligent. They need to be taught to support each other and to listen to one another. We need to do the same.

Kenny Frederick is headteacher at George Green community school in Tower Hamlets, London

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