Plenty to fear from the rising tide of violence

18th February 2011 at 00:00

I read the lead story in The TESS of 4 February, "Violence levels revealed", and thought of Reamonn Gormley, the 19-year-old man stabbed to death in Blantyre. After an evening with his friends, he was knifed in the neck on his way home and died from fatal wounds. The people of Blantyre then marched in the streets to mark their outrage that human life is now a cheap commodity to be snuffed out in the blink of an eye.

In the last year for which records are available, 35 people were killed in knife attacks in Scotland, nearly half of all the 79 homicides recorded. This means Scotland has one of the worst long-term murder rates in Europe - a problem largely clustered in the west of the central belt. According to the Scottish Government's latest EU-wide figures, only Estonia, Lithuania, Finland and Bulgaria have a worse murder rate.

As Professor Munn said in The TESS report, classroom assistants are a constructive presence in defusing challenging behaviour in lessons. Pupils who store their social and emotional baggage in the classroom need a great deal of support. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, according to the British Educational Research Association's Violence in UK Schools study, most school exclusions come from very deprived areas.

Schools work hard to promote positive behaviour, subscribing to the latest theories about preventing and managing conflict. It's a difficult exercise, trying to balance the needs of the children who behave well and the infinitely louder demands of those who manifest negative actions. Mostly, we do a reasonable job but we can't rule out the possibility that some quietly uncomplaining children are being mercilessly bullied when they leave our classrooms.

But schools are simply an adjunct of a violent world outside and can only offer solutions as good as those that wider society signs up to. The despair, grief, panic and gloom enveloping Blantyre lodges in the consciousness of all of us as alarming evidence of what we allow to happen in the streets of Scotland.

Nor is mindless violence new, though it may feel that way. On 8 December, 1995, Learco Chindamo, 15, stabbed 48-year-old Philip Lawrence through the heart as the headteacher tried to prevent him attacking another boy outside St George's RC School in Maida Vale, west London.

So who will we blame? Wheel in Jeremy Kyle and have him host a daytime TV show. It won't be difficult to fill the seats with a baying mob - plenty of people hungry for whipping boys are out there waiting to pounce. Line up the culprits and heap emotional bile upon them. Schools, social services departments, the police, local authorities and possibly others will be savagely criticised, because they have apparently failed to deal with violence in society.

What explosive revelations would such a soap opera produce? That poverty and deprivation cause but don't excuse violence, and until we tackle both these issues we are faced with a sense of slow-burning disaster. Meanwhile, in the classrooms, teachers try to achieve the impossible - to understand what is happening in the minds of their disturbed pupils and help them. This is against a background of a society which is inured to street violence and bloodshed. Little wonder that the rumble in the classroom is becoming a roar. I fear the outcome.

Marj Adams, teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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