Reach out to violent children

30th July 2004 at 01:00
The parents of Luke Walmsley will take some comfort this week from the life sentence for their son's killer. Sadly, no punishment, no matter how severe, can compensate for their loss, nor can any amount of soul-searching about how to prevent similar incidents in the future bring their son back.

Our hearts go out to them.

Thankfully, fatal stabbings in schools remain extremely rare. We should not, therefore, reach for panic measures whenever tragedy strikes. But schools will wish to take stock, just as parents will be anxious to know everything that can be done is being done to make sure their children are safe at school.

What lessons can we learn? One important message is that tragedy can strike anywhere, and is not confined to high-rise estates or the inner cities.

Birkbeck school in rural Lincolnshire can now be added to the thankfully short list of schools where pupils or staff have been murdered. Heads and teachers everywhere reading how the school responded (page 4) will be asking themselves how they would cope with such a tragedy.

As it did following the Dunblane massacre and the fatal stabbing of Philip Lawrence, the Government has sensibly promised to examine ways of improving school security. Chris Keates (page 4) has set out the case for random checks using metal detectors.

Post-Dunblane, many schools now routinely use CCTV cameras to deter theft and unwanted intruders. Some schools are even experimenting with CCTV in the classroom so that assaults on teachers can be caught on camera. But technology is often prohibitively expensive and, when taken to extremes, intrusive.

Money might better be spent on improving youth services (page 6) and deploying children's services more effectively in schools to identify pupils at risk. This is exactly the sort of joined-up thinking, that the Government has promised in its new Children Bill.

If it works, it might just help to rescue some future knife-obsessed bully from a broken home and prevent another tragedy.

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