Safety fear grows after stabbing

15th December 1995 at 00:00
Philip Lawrence died trying to stop violence a too-frequent intruder into many heads' and teachers' working lives. Frances Rafferty and Clare Dean open a two-page report on what lessons must be learnt from the tragedy The fatal stabbing last week of Philip Lawrence, head of St George's school.

in London, has shocked the country, but not surprised many of those working in education.

St George's RC school is in Maida Vale, a mixture of smart mansion blocks and the nearby Mozart Estate with its high unemployment, crime and drug rates.

Mr Lawrence died from a single stab wound after rushing to help 13-year-old William Njoh who was being harassed by a group of youths outside the school gates.

"He did what all heads would instinctively do," said Angela Piddock, head of Wilberforce primary where William was once a pupil. "If you see one of your kids being got at by other kids you go to help."

At her school on the Mozart Estate she has sometimes confronted groups of youths hanging around school gates. "I have never been threatened and before the weekend I never felt vulnerable. Now we are all having to think about what we should do," she says.

At the very time Mr Lawrence was stabbed, Michael Marland, head of North Westminster School and three of his teachers were confronting a group of youths hanging around their school.

"To call these groups gangs gives them glory they do not deserve. They are groups of yobbos, sometimes merely mobile lay-abouts, sometimes truants and sometimes youngsters who have been expelled," he said.

Mr Marland welcomes the decision to outlaw the carrying of knives without good reason. But, he says, the issue of paying for adequate security in schools needs to be addressed urgently. "Schools have never been staffed properly for security. The staff who did the job have probably now gone because of budget cuts," he says.

Schools have become more security conscious, especially since the fatal stabbing of Nikki Conway 20 months ago at Hall Garth school in Middlesbrough.

A growing number of schools are installing closed-circuit cameras. St George's recently had its windows barred and a coded entry system installed.

Shortly before his death, Mr Lawrence told Danny Connelly, a local publisher, that "our biggest worry is street life outside the school. We try to make sure undesirables do not come in".

Data Factors, a Suffolk-based computer company, is offering Pounds 1,000 software for a swipe-card entry system free to schools in the wake of Mr Lawrence's murder.

And the National Association of Head Teachers has reports of a record 69 cases of assaults or violent verbal abuse against its members this year. It is also handling 12 criminal compensation claims.

Figures released by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers this week also reveal a record number of cases involving violence by youngsters with 51 cases this year - a 37 per cent increase.

The union said special schools should be re-opened and more money made available for pupil referral units to deal with violent or disruptive pupils.

This week the Association of Teachers and Lecturers logged three assaults on teachers The union is refusing to teach a Year 7 pupil who was excluded for physically and verbally assaulting a member of staff but who has now returned to school after an appeal.

Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, has called for a meeting with the teacher unions to review school security. The subject was also raised during a meeting with the Secondary Heads Association this week. Mrs Shephard said schools should not be turned into fortresses, but said she wanted to look at ways to tighten up security.

Truancy and exclusions were also discussed. According to the Unison, the public-services union, one in 10 pupils truants and up to 80,000 children a day are not in school.

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