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Teachers invited to turn vigilantes

Police are offering teachers the ultimate busman's holiday - the chance to spend summer evenings hunting badly-behaved pupils on the streets.

Staff are joining officers in Burnley on anti-social behaviour patrols as part of a crackdown called Operation Summer Nights.

Officers say that young people often go drinking, vandalising property and disturbing residents, only because they know they will be anonymous.

When police arrive they flee in different directions, making it almost impossible for officers to identify and catch them. They hope that teachers who are familiar with the young people will be able to identify them instantly.

Letters will be sent to their parents initially, while persistent offenders could be forced to sign an acceptable behaviour contract, banning them from anti-social behaviour.

Sergeant Martin Selway, head of neighbourhood policing in Burnley, said:

"Teachers often know these young people best.

"Part of the gang culture is their anonymity. If somebody knows them, it reduces what they feel they can get away with. They may be more worried about what their teacher thinks than the police."

He said the patrols would not be addressing serious crime and they would not put teachers at risk. Three of the anti-social behaviour hotspots being targeted on the first patrol are schools.

Police sent officers on horseback into some of the schools in a bid to deter teenagers from drinking in the grounds. Sergeant Selway said the plan had proved a success last year in a nearby town, and it complemented their school visits to build a relationship with pupils.

But the issue has proved controversial with Burnley schools and the first patrol last Friday went ahead without any teachers. A deputy head pulled out after criticism from other school leaders, but Sergeant Selway said others remained committed.

"If teachers feel they haven't got the time or whatever, we respect that.

But others feel this is worth a couple of hours," he said.

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said the idea that teachers would want to spend their summer holiday evenings chasing their most difficult pupils around town was "a classic case of midsummer madness".

He said: "If you want a perfect recipe for undermining the teaching and learning relationship with pupils, you've got it."

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