Only joined-up thinking will bring us peace

14th September 2007 at 01:00
The murder of Rhys Jones, along with several shootings and stabbings of young people during the summer holidays, has caused a great deal of panic. The media asked an endless list of people to comment on the tragedy. Everyone blamed someone else the police, parents, schools, rappers and anybody else they could think of.

They blamed it on a lack of moral values and a lack of religious education, as well as an "inadequate" youth justice system, which allows young people to "get away with murder". If only it was that simple.

Of course the situation is worrying, but what we don't need is a knee-jerk reaction. We don't want to blame or be blamed. Instead we need to accept and share responsibility. The answer does not lie with the police or schools, or with any one organisation. It needs joined-up thinking. We need to work in partnership, share information and intelligence, and produce solutions. What worked last year may not work this. We need to be proactive and positive. More importantly, we need to involve our young people and our local community. Projects are not the answer we need long-term strategies.

The Government is under pressure to produce new legislation, but I would urge very careful thought before bringing in new laws that cannot be enforced. I was amused to hear on Radio 4 how "new powers" given to headteachers will make our lives easier. We are allowed to fine parents who do not keep their children under control. I'd like to see the people who thought of this idea try. The only way I could issue such an order would be wearing my running shoes and with a bodyguard at my side.

t is, of course, sensible to insist that pupils who have been excluded attend a reintegration meeting with their child before they return (this is something we have always tried to do). But what about the parents who just don't turn up? There are a number of parents we never see no matter what demands we make. Am I to exclude the child until the parent turns up? Of course not.

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 introduced a duty on all maintained schools in England to promote community cohesion. It also placed a responsibility on Ofsted to report on the contributions made in this area. The duty comes into effect this month and Ofsted will report on it from September next year. The requirements of this duty are not onerous and make sense and will, more importantly, I believe, help to address the issues around gang, knife and gun culture and anti-social behaviour. This strategy, along with the Every Child Matters agenda, has the potential to address some of these ills. We must all recognise that there are no quick fixes. It needs a long-term strategy that transcends political parties if that is possible.

In Tower Hamlets we have a very proactive children's service that brings together professionals, both statutory and voluntary agencies, pupils and parents to help make community cohesion a reality. It's not perfect, but we are heading in the right direction. Joined-up working helps us to identify youngsters and families at risk and to intervene before the problems escalate.

Making community cohesion a duty of all schools is a sensible move on the part of Government. It may force schools that think this has nothing to do with them to take action before problems arise. When something bad happens in our community, it quickly moves into the school. Community cohesion is no longer just an inner-city issue. It is a problem that affects us all.

Kenny Frederick

is headteacher of George Green community school in east London

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