Gun crime: let pupils trigger the solution

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
Guns are not an issue I have had to deal with, although I am under no illusion that I might have to do so in the future. The tragic murders of three teenagers in south London in the past month have filled us all with fear and dread that our own communities could be next.

While my own school has mercifully been untroubled by incidents with firearms, in the past we have had to deal with many other problems, including gangs, drugs and knives. I really feel for colleagues in schools not very far from my own who are presently dealing with the emotional fall-out following the violent deaths of members of their school community, and who now also have to live with the inevitable fear of reprisals and revenge attacks.

Trying to keep a school calm and focused on learning under such circumstances is a massive undertaking. Anybody who has had to manage a school after the death of a pupil even under normal circumstances will know how difficult it is to support distressed and grieving children and members of staff. So imagine what it must be like when pupils have come to such a violent end as the ones we have read about in recent news reports.

The rumours and myths that abound have to be addressed and challenged, and help and support must be given to young people who are coping with their loss and bereavement. Furthermore, it is possible that many pupils will have information about the gangs in their neighbourhood, and perhaps the crimes committed, but are afraid to tell anybody. The tension must be dreadful. Inevitably, schools have to deal with these situations.

But what of the wider issues? The lurid accounts in the press about adolescent lawlessness and the seemingly unemotional and unfeeling attitude of young people caught up in street gangs have been difficult to digest. As usual, we are all looking for someone to blame.

The Conservative leader David Cameron thinks the problem is all about family breakdown, while the Prime Minister thinks the answer lies in tougher sentences. But we know that banging up more people in prisons and young offenders' units is not the answer: they are simply training grounds for violent criminals.

Young people don't think about the consequences of their actions: they think short-term and want instant gratification. They want respect and will demand it, one way or another. We also know young people who come from broken homes and one-parent families who are law-abiding citizens and who overcome the barriers they face. So what makes some resilient while others can't cope? I think this is where schools come in.

Harriet Harman, constitutional affairs minister and a south London MP, says we should start early, "at the end of primary school and early on in secondary schools" and look for the "warning signs". I agree.

The Every Child Matters agenda and joined-up children's services can help us to support young people and their families in a much more strategic way - at school, at home and on our streets. The answers will not come from the politicians. We need to find solutions among pupils themselves and within our communities. We must work with the police, the local council, with social care, the youth service and voluntary agencies, and of course with parents and young people. Let's not wait until the problem presents itself.

We have to act. We can start by discussing what is happening to young people and see what they suggest. The need for joined-up thinking has never been as great as it is now.

Kenny Frederick is head of George Green's community school in east London

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