11th December 2009 at 00:00
A pupil brought a homemade weapon into school with the intention of using it in a fight. The weapon was confiscated, but what further punishment should we give?

This is clearly a serious issue. A recent study of 1,500 teachers carried out by Warwick University found that nearly a quarter of them had dealt with pupils carrying weapons at least once a year, with 11 per cent doing so on a daily or weekly basis. Tackling this problem is something schools cannot afford to take lightly.

"On one level there is simply a breach of school rules. Pupils will be aware of the consequences for breaking the rule, which would involve the headteacher, parents and if deemed serious enough the police," says Eddie Gardner, a former teacher and now managing consultant at educational advisers Equis Consulting.

"On another level, the pupil concerned needs to have a clear understanding of the potential danger and consequences of their intended actions," he adds. "Schools need to have communicated a policy and procedure for teachers and pupils to follow in such circumstances."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, agrees. "All schools are required to have behaviour policies that should detail the sanctions that will be imposed on pupils who bring weapons into school."

In determining what level of punishment is appropriate, she argues that the intention to use the weapon in this example is key.

"If there is clear evidence that the pupil has brought the homemade weapon into school with the intention of using it in a fight then the immediate response should be temporary exclusion, pending a detailed consideration of the case," she says.

"At the very least temporary suspension would be the most appropriate response, not only as a sanction against the pupil but to underline the seriousness for all pupils of this kind of behaviour."

Ms Keates suggests that in considering further action, schools should look at other factors. "Why did the pupil do this? Were they trying to defend themselves from bullying, for example? This wouldn't excuse the behaviour but it might explain it. What is the pupil's history in terms of behaviour and disruption?," she says.

Given that carrying a weapon on school premises is a criminal offence, the involvement of parents and the police is something schools must consider.

"Bringing a weapon into school should always be treated with the utmost seriousness," Ms Keates adds. "Parents should be involved from the beginning as schools should have communicated to them that carrying weapons will not be tolerated."

She advises schools to consider what steps they can take to visibly enforce aspects of their behaviour policies on weapons. "The use of random searches and airport-style security checks can act as a deterrent as well as a method of detection," she says.

Even if schools take a firm stance and deal with incidents involving weapons seriously, what can they do to help prevent pupils from bringing weapons into school in the first place? "Very few schools can guarantee immunity from the threat of violence in the community spilling on to the school and so pupils must know what else they could have done," says Mr Gardner, adding that the relationship between staff and pupils plays an important role.

"Schools should have staff who are trained in gang activity and conflict resolution and have resources available to get to the root of the dispute. A pastoral system that provides an alternative route for aggrieved pupils is also important."

Ms Keates highlights practical steps that schools can take to help educate pupils on how best to settle disputes. "Schools can use appropriate opportunities in the curriculum to discuss the dangers and inappropriateness of violence and using weapons to explore why young people carry them."

"Community groups, agencies, victims of knife crime and the police can all be used by schools to talk about the dangers and consequences of carrying weapons," she says.

Next week - Parent problem

Schools should

- Bear in mind that carrying a weapon on school premises is a criminal offence.

- Ensure its policy on weapons in school is communicated to parents.

- Involve parents immediately, the police if necessary and use exclusion powers available.

- Highlight the dangers and consequences of carrying weapons.

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