It's not PC to say so, but the beat works

16th January 2009 at 00:00
Vulnerable children and families are safer now the bad old days of distrust between teachers and the police are over

I can well remember the fallout from the Broadwater Farm riots in 1985 because I was working in a local secondary school at the time. The relationship between police and schools was very poor. In fact, back then many schools in London would not allow officers on the premises and there was a feeling of distrust between teachers and the police.

These feelings were, of course, transmitted to the pupils, who were suspicious of the police and would never report a crime or co-operate with them willingly. This meant that they were unsafe in the streets and could not call for help when they needed it. No doubt, this negative attitude affected the investigation into the murder of PC Blakelock during the riots.

It was an untenable situation that had to change. Thankfully, things have moved on since then.

I was struck by how much had changed when I saw a recent news report that said police had been called into schools 7,000 times last year. It was a typical education news story for the school holidays. Politicians like to launch unpopular policies or negative reports at such times in the hope that teachers will be too busy relaxing to respond with a deluge of complaints.

This time round, it was the Conservatives who had been trying to dig up dirt about crime in schools, presumably to discredit the Government's education policies.

The police figures were being used to indicate rising anarchy in our classrooms and a dramatic decline in discipline. This, of course, is nonsense. One problem with such Freedom of Information Act discoveries is that they can be used for the wrong reasons and often take things out of context.

What the figures actually show is a far more effective partnership between teachers and the police, a sign that there has been success in combating the distrust that used to exist.

This is partly a result of Every Child Matters and the community cohesion agenda. But one approach that has been particularly successful is the safer schools partnership scheme, which puts police in schools.

When I had a phone call from a local chief superintendent in 2001, asking if I would consider having an officer based in our school, I immediately said Yes. I did not ask my governors or my senior leadership team or my staff. Instead I made one stipulation - I wanted to have some say on who the officer was. We knew PC Duncan well as he was part of the community police team that had supported us through a very difficult year when there had been an outbreak of racial and gang violence.

Naturally, the problems had spilled over into school and we'd had to deal with the aftermath. PC Duncan was ideally suited to the role because he was fairly young and not set in his ways. He also wanted to understand the context of the school and the community. More importantly, he was able to show real empathy for the young people and families he worked with - even if he had to take tough action.

Now he is our safer schools officer, sometimes he wears a uniform around school and sometimes he doesn't - it doesn't matter because we all know he is a police officer. He is known as PC Duncan or as PC Dunc (or occasionally as PC Hunk) depending on the impressionable young person or member of staff he is talking to.

We have now had our wonderful officer for seven years. The effect has been dramatic. However, as I warned the superintendent who made the offer, crime figures have not gone down; instead they have gone up because more people - parents, pupils, staff and the local community - are reporting incidents. But these include many issues other than youth crime, so the figures can be misleading.

Many pupils are victims of crimes perpetrated by adults and they need to have the confidence to report them. Similarly, many vulnerable families are harassed in their own homes and need our help.

PC Duncan is always able to help, and we work with him on many issues, from liaising with local shopkeepers and stopping problem behaviour on buses, to preventing knife crime and tackling gangs.

He works closely with our social care team on child protection and attendance, and with our local neighbourhood team to support local primary schools. In addition, he works with our positive playground, conflict resolution and community teams.

As an extended school, we deliver youth services every evening and are open throughout every holiday. Our partnership with PC Duncan, and the good relationship built up between the community and the police neighbourhood team, means we are able to prevent problems occurring in the evenings - and thus stop them spilling over into school the next day.

Of course, our officer does arrest pupils on occasion, but usually justice is dealt out by the school because it is far easier and swifter than court action.

Police in schools is a success story in all respects. Don't let anybody tell you different.

Kenny Frederick, Head of George Green's School, Tower Hamlets, east London.

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