Diane Spencer reports on a plea for the Government to meet its manifesto promise
The Government should become tougher on the causes of crime - as promised in its election manifesto - with schools playing a crucial role, according to the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders.
NACRO said schools had to rise to four main challenges if crime is to be tackled - anti-social behaviour and bullying; low achievement; absenteeism; suspension and exclusion.
The Government should give a higher priority to keeping disruptive and disaffected children in mainstream schools, it added.
The report by NACRO's committee on children and crime cited research showing that pupils who did badly at school were more at risk of offending.
It said that research could not prove cause and effect conclusively, but it was likely that children who spent a lot of time outside school failed to form friendships which would keep them out of trouble; absence would lead to lower educational standards, and problems with discipline and time-keeping.
The report recommends that schools should be closely involved with local authority strategies and youth justice plans to prevent crime as well as with drug action teams. Schools are well placed to identify children and families most at risk and who might benefit from guidance from other services, said the committee.
Other recommendations include: teaching on citizenship, beginning in primary school; developing school policies on bullying and anti-social behaviour; a flexible curriculum post-14 with more emphasis on vocational courses; better support for the transition between primary and secondary school; exclusions as a last resort with recognition of schools' success in avoiding them; financial incentives for those offering excluded children a second chance and a more comprehensive youth service.
NACRO has put several of its ideas into practice. One project is based at Frankley community high in Birmingham and aims to prevent 14 and 15-year-olds from being excluded by giving them vocational courses leading to national vocational qualifications. In Staffordshire, the education authority has funded projects for small groups of excluded pupils based in independent centres which prepare them for work or re-integration with education Ian Threlfall, NACRO's regional manager for the Midlands and Wales, said the schemes were far more cost effective than letting a young person drift into crime.
Alex Carlile QC, who chairs the committee, said there were many examples of excellent local projects. But such efforts were often underfunded and poorly co-ordinated.
The Basic Skills Agency found that one-fifth of the 500 17-20-year-olds serving custodial sentences could not write their name and address correctly. Half had difficulty in telling the time and giving the days of the week in the right order and less than a third could fill in job application forms.
A Home Office study found strong links between persistent truancy and offending, and an even stronger link between children who were suspended or excluded from school and offending. The Audit Commission's 1996 report Misspent Youth, found that two-thirds of children appearing in court had been excluded or were regular truants.
Children,schools and crime, a report by NACRO's committee on children and crime, NACRO, 169 Clapham Road, London SW9 0PU, price pound;4.50.