Aftermath of a school stabbing

14th November 2003 at 00:00
How do you help traumatised pupils to recover after incidents of extreme violence? Helen Ward and Dorothy Lepkowska report

Six months ago, a small rural secondary school in Suffolk found itself the subject of newspaper headlines after a pupil was stabbed in a school toilet.

The boy survived and has now returned to the high school. A court case is ongoing.

Neither the boy, the school nor its headteacher can be identified for legal reasons, but the head this week spoke of how grateful he was for the help he was given.

He in turn has offered support to the Lincolnshire school where a 14-year-old pupil was killed last week.

"You see the news and think: 'There but for the grace of God, go I'," he said. "I remember walking up the drive of my school earlier this summer, to television cameras and journalists and thinking, 'This time, it is me'."

A 15-year-old boy has been charged with grievous bodily harm and is due to appear at crown court in January.

On the day of the incident, the head called a special assembly to talk about the stabbing with the children and wrote to parents. Classes continued after the assembly. Counselling for pupils and staff was provided by the local authority.

"There was immense support for the school in the community," said the head.

"There is a sense that we have been tried and tested and come through this. It is an immense achievement and very much to the credit of the school that we got through it with our sense of self- worth enhanced.

"You spend a long time as a headteacher building up an ethos, a set of values. You have to believe that that sense of morality will win through and it will."

He said leadership becomes almost instinctive when faced with difficult incidents. His guiding principle was to be available.

"You have to be aware that people heal at different rates," he added.

"You need to make informal and formal counselling procedures available for as long as necessary.

"I think our youngsters have moved on much more quickly than the adults.

Last week, not one student has mentioned it to me, but a number of adults have.

"The local authority has been very supportive. On the day after the incident in Lincolnshire, we had two phone calls and two visits on the day from people at the authority asking if we were all right.

After surviving the shock of the first few weeks, the Suffolk school is now adopting long-term changes. An office is being set up in school which community police officers can use while they are in the area. The move is part of an extended school philosophy designed to strengthen links between the pupils and the adults who work in their community.

The head said: "My advice to any headteacher who finds a knife on a child is to report it to the police. This needs to be treated with extreme seriousness and the police do need to be involved."

Uniformed police and a security officer now monitor pupil behaviour, at an east London secondary where a 15-year-old boy was stabbed last February.

Again The TES cannot identify either the boy, the school or its head for legal reasons.

The head said children who witnessed the incident were given counselling as soon as possible, and there was a police presence at the school for several weeks.

The school now has a designated "safer schools officer", who is regularly on site, and a security man guards its entrance.

The head said: "In the immediate aftermath, we dealt with the children who witnessed the incident and who were distressed.

"We also held assemblies where we drummed it into them that bringing knives into school was not acceptable, and that it was dangerous. I think the incident itself brought home exactly what could happen.

"`But it is difficult to enforce this without checking every single child.

For some of them it is normal because it is what they see on the streets.

"There is only the odd one who believes carrying weapons is acceptable. But if there is just one knife around it doesn't take much for a tragedy to happen."

Another voice 20

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