Vulnerable children caught up in gang culture view school as an "authoritarian and controlling institution" that undermines their dignity, a study suggests.
Youth workers have more success than teachers in getting through to young people in gangs, but schools in general are failing to provide a "welcoming refuge", according to Professor Ross Deuchar and Jennifer Ellis, of the University of the West of Scotland.
The academics explored social pressures that may lead to gang culture and antisocial behaviour, through past research and a small-scale study of their own with 35 children aged 11-12 in three Glasgow secondaries.
Children tend to have a complicated mix of social and personal problems stemming from domestic violence, inadequate youth facilities, peer pressure, alcohol and drugs, for which gangs and antisocial behaviour compensated, they found.
"Against this backdrop, one would hope that the one place that the young people might experience a safe, encouraging and welcoming refuge would be in school," their report said.
In fact, they "mostly viewed school as an authoritarian, controlling institution characterised by didactic approaches to teaching and learning and an ethos that undermined their sense of dignity and respect".
The majority of young people talked negatively about school, and in many cases it appeared to exacerbate anger and frustration.
The children gained much from meeting youth workers three times a week in each school, over 30 weeks, when they would explore the social issues they commonly faced.
They viewed their relationships with youth workers as "extremely positive and encouraging". Some felt that the youth workers had helped them to deal with frustrations about school and suppress their anger towards teachers, and they were less inclined to partake in antisocial behaviour.
But the children still appeared to regard school as authoritarian. The researchers believe that this is in part because the workshops were delivered solely by youth workers, as a result of time pressures on teachers and a reluctance - among youth workers and teachers - to work together because of differing approaches.
"The lack of opportunity to initiate a truly collaborative approach meant that pupils continued to regard teachers and youth workers as two distinct groups with differing expectations and professional ideologies," the researchers write. "Consequently, in many pupils' minds youth workers were romanticised, while teachers were demonised, and a collaborative, border- crossing pedagogy was never fully realised."
But a spokeswoman for Glasgow Council dismissed the study. "The findings of this piece of emotive research are based on a very small sample of pupils, and as such we do not think it reflects a true picture," she said.
"Schools across the city are working extensively (to reduce) exclusions using restorative justice approaches and running creative vocational programmes in conjunction with local colleges."
Staff and young people had worked effectively with the Violence Reduction Unit, part of the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, she said. "We would question the destructive impact reports such as these have as the outcomes can be very misleading," she added.
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What children in the report say
- "I started (fighting) and then I just started getting a name for myself . You're close to danger but you feel as if you're dead safe because you are with your pals." Andy
- "If people call, like, my ma a cow and all that, I just go up and smash them . It's good when you batter someone." Cara
- "It's sad that you batter them, but you are happy that you did it." Samantha
- "They (youth workers) reason with you and all that . Teachers, when you try to reason with them, they try to bite the head off me." Marcus
- "You bring things up with teachers and they say, `Right, we'll consider it.' And they don't - and you never hear of it again." Kevin
- "If you treat them (youth workers) with respect, they'll give you respect back." Marcus
- "They (youth workers) have shown me how to keep my anger in." Kevin.
Photo credit: Alamy
Original headline: Children in gangs see school as the enemy, says study