Don't let the knife culture take hold

14th December 2007 at 00:00
The shooting of 11-year-old football fan Rhys Jones in Liverpool this summer was a tragedy waiting to happen. Playground stabbings are already a sad reality in some English inner cities. The murder of innocent Rhys brought home the horrific spectre of child gun crime to Britain.

According to Professor Ken Reid (page 3), Wales is a long way off witnessing gun-toting schoolchildren. But we have no cause to be complacent. The academic gave evidence of children arming themselves with "sticks" to protect themselves from bullies last week. But they are also carrying knives, he says. Surely that is a slippery road we don't want to go down.

Bullying was almost a fact of life on schools buses 20 or so years ago. However, would bully victims have thought a bit of name-calling was reason enough to arm themselves with a potentially lethal weapon? What will Professor Reid, as head of the national behaviour and attendance review, be recommending we do about this in his final report due out in the spring?

Let's hope it is not just another piece of paper-pushing with recommendations that are never acted upon. The Assembly government says the conclusions of the review could make for a Wales-only measure. But what exactly? These trends have to be nipped in the bud - fast. Some heads Professor Reid addressed last week were blissfully unaware that there were children who felt so unsafe walking to and from school that they have taken up arms.

There was probably good reason for their shock. Some schools will never witness this level of violence or bullying and we can all be thankful it will probably be confined to the minority. But not even the best head can observe their pupils 247 - especially when they are outside the school gates.

Teenagers are soon likely to be out of school a lot more as the 14-19 learning pathways initiative is phased in. There are already worries over who has the final responsibility for pupil behaviour during transfers between schools, colleges and workplaces.

It is gratifying to know that, on the whole, bad behaviour is being well managed by schools. But the carrying of knives by pupils - even a tiny minority - must be tackled with concerted action now, not later.

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