Playing catch-up with the playground PCs
Pupils say it makes them feel safer, heads love it, chief police officers want it expanded, research proves it works, and Gordon Brown and Ed Balls are fans. Safer schools partnerships are, in short, a success.
While many teachers and social workers struggle to work together, uniformed police officers have already forged productive partnerships in hundreds of schools.
But TES research suggests that this could be in spite, rather than because, of central government.
The scheme pre-dates the launch of Every Child Matters in 2003 by at least a year. But it fits the new agenda like a glove, particularly the goal of helping pupils make a positive contribution, which demands that schools encourage them to behave well and abide by the law.
It was first suggested at the turn of the millennium by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), as the practice of placing plain clothes officers in schools to educate pupils started to die out.
Forces, under pressure to reduce crime, began to question the worth of using staff in quasi-teacher roles.
But the association felt that taking police out of schools was short-sighted and produced the idea of uniformed bobbies using schools as a base for community policing. The hope was that it would promote better relationships with young people, helping to nip anti-social behaviour in the bud.
Tony Blair leapt on the idea as part of his 2002 street crime initiative: 100 schools in 10 high-crime areas were given their own officer.
Police forces and schools outside these areas soon picked up the idea, despite not receiving extra funding.
They were vindicated by a Youth Justice Board (YJB) survey, which estimated that an average 40 incidents per school per year were prevented as a result. Moreover, 79 per cent of pupils said school felt safer.
Further backing came from York University, which found that the partnerships could increase the earning potential of each pupil by pound;276,000, while schools that took part enjoyed fewer pupil absences and better GCSE results.
But not everyone welcomed the scheme. As The TES reported in 2006, Just for Kids Law, a children's charity, claimed that it was leading to the criminalisation of teenagers for minor offences.
The accusation is fiercely denied by its supporters. The introduction of restorative justice schemes in schools last year should make criminal charges even less likely.
If there is any truth in the criminalisation claims, it certainly did nothing to dampen the early popularity of the partnerships, which topped 450 by 2005.
And enthusiasm for the scheme has continued, according to Inspector Ian Carter, Acpo's youth issues officer. He says it was schools constantly asking Lord Adonis for their own police officer that prompted the schools minister to write to chief constables last June suggesting an expansion of the scheme.
That same month saw Gordon Brown - gearing up to become Prime Minister - suggest that the partnerships could be used to get tough on bullying.
His lieutenant Ed Balls, now the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, was also quick on the uptake, suggesting an expansion of the scheme after the shooting of 11-year-old Rhys Jones in Liverpool last summer.
But serious questions now hang over the ability of his department, and colleagues in the Home Office, to ensure that happens.
Police claim that the Government has been out of touch, allowing the scheme's momentum to slow, and that it is not providing the training and resources needed.
Inspector Carter is hopeful that things will improve when the Government launches its youth crime action plan later this year.
"This scheme needs to be better funded and there needs to be more permanence around it," he says. "It is just short term: there needs to be a long-term response."
Heads also complain of short-termism, with officers moving on from schools before they have a chance to build proper relationships. And The TES has established that, in some areas, they have been removed from schools altogether.
If partnerships are to fulfil their potential, Inspector Carter argues that national training for both police officers and schools is needed.
"It does make a difference," he says, "because officers are saying, 'This is a different environment from what I'm used to. It needs a different approach'."
Dave Aukett, a former police officer and YJB consultant involved with partnerships since their inception, has begun to plug the gap by offering ad hoc training.
"Where partnerships are left to their own devices with an inappropriate officer and a school management team who aren't that supportive, they can end up as little more than a very expensive uniformed security guard," he says.
"But if you get the right officer doing the right things, I think schools can be surprised about how much they learn about working with young people and how much difficult behaviour can be challenged and changed effectively."
The main aims of "making a positive contribution" are for young people to:
- engage in decision-making and support the community and environment;
- engage in law-abiding and positive behaviour in and out of school;
- develop positive relationships and choose not to bully or discriminate;
- develop self-confidence and successfully deal with significant life changes and challenges; and
- develop enterprising behaviour.
Schools are expected to:
- support young people in developing socially and emotionally;
- support young people in managing changes and responding to challenges in their lives;
- encourage young people to participate in decision-making and in supporting the community;
- encourage them to take part in and initiate voluntary activities to support the community and environment; and
- take action to reduce anti-social behaviour, prevent offending and reduce re-offending.
The Government will be looking at:
- the percentage of secondary pupils participating in school council elections, mock elections, voluntary and community engagement;
- the percentage of 10- to 19-year-olds admitting to either bullying in the past year or threatening, attacking or being rude because of skin colour, race or religion; and
- the number of crimes brought to justice and the number of permanent and fixed period exclusions.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
FIVE TIPS FOR TEACHERS
- When teaching pupils how to present arguments, build their confidence by starting discussions in pairs and groups.
- Use interviews, photographs, the local library, newspapers and community organisations to help pupils research their local community and its composition. Ask them to find out why people live there, whether they have come from abroad, and if so, why?
- If your school decides to become rights respecting, be aware that this is likely to mean staff behaviour coming under scrutiny from pupils.
- Having a police officer based in your school as part of a safer schools partnership is not meant to be the answer to all behavioural problems; existing school behaviour policies should still apply.
- For tips on getting pupils interested in global issues, go to www.unicef.org.uktzresources
FIVE TIPS FOR SCHOOLS
- Heads need to win over all their staff if they want their school to become rights respecting. If lunchtime supervisors, or any other support staff, are not on board, the whole process can be undermined.
- If you expand pupil voice, make sure supply staff are fully briefed and ready to cope with a more vociferous group of pupils.
- If a police officer is based in your school as part of a safer schools partnership, be very clear about what both parties should expect from the arrangement.
- Establish protocol and information-sharing systems at the very start of such a partnership, so you build from a solid base.
- Use the partnerships as a catalyst for relationships with other partners such as youth and mental-health service providers.