When I grow up I want to be a gangster
How do I do this?" the north London headteacher says. "How do I do this in a way where I don't end up being bundled into the back of a white van?" There is silence on the end of the phone. "Because they've threatened me with that once already."
The headteacher - whose not-unreasonable fear of white vans means that he has asked to remain anonymous - once taught the offspring of a member of one of north London's most notorious gangs. The boy's father had been involved in large-scale robberies as well as general drug trafficking. And he was known as the man behind at least one kneecapping of a rival gang member.
The problem of school-aged children joining gangs has been widely and repeatedly discussed. Anti-gang organisations and youth workers regularly try to persuade children that the potential costs of joining a gang outweigh the limited advantages. However, for those children who are born into gang families, and the teachers who must work with them, a different set of problems exists.
When the north-London headteacher joined the school, the gangster's son - who, in recognition of his heritage, will be given the pseudonym Reggie - was in Year 9. "The basic thing is that he was lawless," the headteacher says. "Everyone locally knew about his family. He would do things, and nobody would challenge him. Children and staff, including senior staff, were frightened of confronting him."
Reggie, therefore, had the run of the school. He would stroll through the corridors during lesson time, every so often putting his head around a classroom door. "If other kids were messing around, he'd say, `All right, Miss?' to the teacher," his headteacher says. "Then he would say to the class, `She's all right'. The kids would quieten down because they didn't want to be beaten up by him at lunchtime."
Jack's teachers saw similar unchecked behaviour at his south London school. Jack was becoming increasingly difficult to handle. He was violent and aggressive, smashing car windows and classroom doors. He regularly threatened staff, and on occasion hit them.
Jack was eight years old.
You can read the full article in the March 2 issue of TES.