Fired up over school crimes

4th January 2008 at 00:00
After years of silence, burning schools are once again lighting up the headlines ("Sprinklers urged as arson flares up in lesson time," TES December 7). This is deja vu, not news. Home Office figures show that over the last 20 years an average of one school per day accidentally catches fire and another three are deliberately set alight. Zurich Municipal, which insures around 60 per cent of schools, reckons the bill for this is pound;60-80 million a year.

Who is responsible for monitoring school crime and reading the runes? What is the scale of school crime? Who knows the real figures? Once, the answer was easy. The local authority picked up the bill and carried the can. They had budgets for replacing stolen equipment, making good vandalism, providing security measures and advising schools on crime risk management.

Now it has all changed. The Department for Education (now the DCSF) used to work closely with local authorities on developing a co-ordinated approach. It no longer does.

Locally and nationally, no one admits to taking an overview or accepting responsibility for seeing one carried out. The only readily available information is the Home Office numbers on school fires. Even that is patchy.

It is easy to interpret a lack of data as the absence of a problem but last year, using information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the BBC learnt that in a 14- month period 975 schools in Kent and East Sussex reported a total of 4,500 crimes to the police. It is unreasonable to assume that Kent and East Sussex is the country's only school crime hotspot. According to Zurich Municipal one shire county was recently losing laptops worth pound;1m annually. Every year losses on this scale costs the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds, places staff and pupils at risk and damages the education of our children, yet no one appears concerned.

Without a coherent strategy every major incident comes as a nasty surprise. We need to tackle crime in individual schools. This means clarifying who is responsible for what.

The DCSF, Home Office, local authorities, police, fire services, insurers, schools, parents and governors must work together at national, local and at individual school level. The question is, who will take the first step on this journey?

Keith Banks, Former assistant director of education for Durham

Alastair Buchan, Former assistant director of education for Sunderland.

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