A light touch, not heavy metal

25th January 2008 at 00:00
It is easy to see why Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary - who said this week that she was afraid to go out on London streets after dark - is urging schools to install airport-style metal detectors to prevent pupils smuggling in weapons.

Last week, a 13-year-old girl was injured in a stabbing incident and a 14-year-old boy arrested at a south London school. If the papers are to be believed, hundreds of schools will soon be fitting expensive scanners in a bid to tackle knife crime.

But are things really so bad? As we report in our front page story, nine out of 10 parents believe their child is safe at school: they are more worried about bullying and behaviour than any danger from knives or guns. Despite a number of fatal attacks on school-aged teenagers in recent times, there is no evidence that violent crime involving young people is increasing. A child is more likely to die from skin cancer caused by sunbathing, or as a result of drowning, than from violence. Of the 50 or so child homicides each year, most are killed by a family member.

The solution to tackling violence in and around schools lies with people, not technology. The answers must come from involving pupils, who often have information about gangs or bullying but are afraid to speak out. Parents and the wider community should also be involved.

Headteachers run schools on the basis of trust and openness, and few will want to turn their schools into hi-tech security zones. Teachers see their mission as promoting the interests and wellbeing of pupils, so news that researchers at Manchester University are developing a new performance measure that will judge schools on the health, happiness and views of their pupils (page 11) will be welcome. If pupils are happier and healthier, they are more likely to learn, and behaviour will improve.

On page 4, we also report that one in 10 pupils has mental health problems, yet many get little help from local mental health services. Most often, these children suffer from behavioural disorders that are frequently linked to poverty, family break-up, school tests, drugs or peer pressure. Tackling these problems, together with taking a more holistic approach to children's learning, is what schools really need, not metal detectors.

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