According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2017 England and Wales saw a 22 percent increase in the reports of knife crime – this is the largest peak ever recorded. With this in mind, it is important we begin to educate pupils on the issues that can arise from carrying or using a knife so that we can begin to combat such high statistics.
This guidance is designed to raise awareness and help schools implement strategies to educate pupils about knife crime without causing a great deal of distress.
What does the law say?
Even if your school hasn’t experienced an issue with knife crime, it is important to know what the law says in the unlikely event that a knife is brought in to school. Furthermore, raising awareness throughout the school can act as a preventative measure. If a pupil was tempted to carry a knife they may be less tempted to do so if they know what they are about to do is breaking the law. So, what does the law say?
It is illegal to:
- Sell a knife of any kind to anyone under the age of 18.
- Buy a knife if you are under the age of 18.
- Carry a knife in public without good reason1 – unless it’s a knife with a folding blade three inches long or less, e.g. a Swiss Army knife.
- Carry, buy or sell a banned knife, including:
- A disguised knife, e.g. hidden in a belt buckle.
- A stealth knife and baton.
- A sword.
- A zombie knife.
- A butterfly knife.
- A flick knife.
- Use any knife in a threatening way (including with any legal knife).
It is important to note that context is taken into account when processing a crime. It is not unheard-of for pupils who are subject to bullying, to carry a knife for protection – this sad reality can lead to a potentially life-threatening situation. If no threat has been made, police try to implement restorative justice, where appropriate. Restorative justice focusses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large. Restorative justice will only occur if both the victim and their parents (if applicable) agree to a meeting. If a threat has been made or acted upon, it will be processed using usual police procedure.
Due to the increased rate of knife-related crime in the UK being reported, it is essential we make sure pupils understand the risks that carrying a knife brings and the procedure to follow if they suspect one of their peers is carrying a knife. The question is now, how do we increase awareness?
There is no one prescribed method to increase awareness throughout your school. It is important to remember it isn’t always about hitting the hard facts about the devastation knives can cause, where ‘shock factors’ may be effective in some cases, we appreciate it isn’t always the right way to go. Below are a few useful bits of guidance that will help you start to increase awareness of knife crime within the school community.
Communicating with local law enforcement officers
Within the local community, you will have a local police community support officer (PCSO) or a local schools officer that you can address to seek guidance on how to discuss sensitive issues within the school. Building a rapport with the school’s local law enforcement officer can be beneficial. You can arrange with the PCSO or schools officer to come into school and carry out talks on matters such as knife crime. By welcoming officers into school on a neutral basis, it allows pupils to view and talk to the police in a non-threatening environment. It is essential for pupils to see the police as people they can trust so that if they ever find themselves needing to disclose information regarding a crime, they are less intimidated to do so.
The school’s local law enforcement officer will also be involved if there is ever an instance of a pupil bringing a knife into school – they will either be there to diffuse the situation, process a criminal charge or confiscate, log and remove a knife from the premises.
It isn’t always obvious if a pupil is struggling with issues at home or at school. If a pupil is suffering in silence, PSHE days can create an environment where they find it easier to ask questions or may find the courage to disclose to a teacher or visitor running a session their issues. PSHE days also provide pupils with essential information and prepare them for real-life scenarios. It may be the case that pupils never have to deal with issues of knife crime in their life but, if a pupil is ever in a situation with knives, they should be better prepared to deal with it having learnt about it at school than if they did not receive any information at all.
PSHE days can be used to introduce the topic of knife crime – the day can encompass different aspects that relate to the issues surrounding knife crime so that it is less intense for pupils participating in the day; for example, sessions could include the following:
- Anti-bullying exercises
- First aid training
- Discussions on moral dilemmas
- Guest speakers, e.g. a PCSO or local schools officer
Incorporating issues surrounding knife crime within a PSHE day should be introduced in KS3. When addressing certain issues within the topic, the focus should be on preventative measures. Below are a few key areas that could be addressed on the day:
- How to recognise and deal with unhealthy relationships including all forms of bullying, abuse and violence.
- How to identify and access appropriate advice and support.
- How to recognise the difference between positive and negative relationships, including its features, e.g. trust and respect.
- How to manage and deal with a breakdown of a relationship.
- The importance of friendship.
- How to obtain skills and strategies to manage being targeted by dangerous people or witnessing others being targeted.
- How to recognise peer pressure and have strategies to manage it so that serious incidents can be avoided.
- Laws relating to carrying an offensive weapon and how to manage pressure to carry an offensive weapon.
- Understanding the potential consequences of carrying a knife.
- How to react to a knife attack, including how to administer first aid and who to call.
Addressing sensitive topics in school effectively can be a challenge – finding the balance between addressing all the facts and keeping pupils engaged is not always easy, especially when discussing crime. To increase awareness, schools can implement a few techniques that are engaging for pupils but are also effective strategies for addressing the serious issues of knife crime – these can be seen below.
Interactive question and answer sessions
Getting pupils up and active within a lesson can be more effective when engaging them in a topic. Making questions interactive can be easily achieved by using simple apparatus. For example, get a six-sided dice or a beach ball and write questions based on the issues discussed in a session and then write the answers on another six-sided dice or beach ball. Get pupils in a circle and throw the first object to a pupil and the second to another. Get the first pupil to ask the question and the second to find the answer on the second object – do this until all questions have been addressed. If there are any clear gaps in the pupils’ knowledge, ensure these are discussed at the end of the session.
Pupils tend to project their emotions onto certain situations subconsciously. Exercises that provide pupils with the opportunity to project can be useful for staff in identifying any pupils who may be suffering in silence with issues of peer pressure or bullying. An example of projecting activities could be moral dilemmas, role play or storyboarding. All of these activities address an issue and asks pupils to step into the shoes of a character and assess how they would deal with an issue. For knife crime, this could address issues of peers pressuring them to carry a knife, a friend informing a pupil they have a knife or what to do if they see a knife being used in an attack.
In the unlikely event of a pupil bringing a knife into school, there are certain procedures you have to follow to ensure the safety of the members of the school community. If any member of staff suspects a pupil may be carrying a knife, they are at liberty to search the pupil. The search has to be conducted by at least two members of staff the same sex as the pupil suspected of carrying a knife. A search can be carried out by one member of staff of either sex if delaying the search would result in immediate danger to the school community.
When conducting a search, it is important to focus on the individual – those conducting a search must not ask individuals to remove items of clothing apart from outer layers, e.g. blazers. It is recommended that schools invest in hand-held metal detector devices – they will make searches less intrusive for the pupil and are easy to use. If, when using a hand-held metal detector device, it goes off over the blazer, remove the blazer but carry on searching the suspect to ensure the weapon is not still on their person – if the metal detector does not sound, you can then be certain the weapon is not concealed on the individual.
Upon discovering the knife, you can contact your local police officer to come and collect it from the school. It is highly recommended to dispose of the weapon by contacting the police as they will give you a form that shows the date of collection, identifying features of the knife and who processed the collection. The police will use official procedures to process the item and, as a result, there will be a paper trail of the knife’s disposal. This can help schools in the event of an individual, whether that be a parent, colleague or pupil, disputing whether the knife has been disposed of.
You should ensure that all staff know the emergency procedure in case they are ever presented with the situation whereby a search of a pupil is immediately necessary for the safety of the school community. It is highly advised that first aid trained members of staff are aware of how to administer first aid to knife wounds – if they are not, or there are members of staff who wish to be first aid trained, the school should be as accommodating as possible to these requests.
Schools should be a positive environment where pupils feel safe and welcome. Addressing sensitive topics may not be easy but it is essential for creating a safe place for all. Even if the school as a whole appears to be a warm environment, it doesn’t always mean that individuals aren’t suffering. By implementing this guidance, you can continue to work towards a sustained safe environment for all pupils, staff and other members of the school community.
Commins, J., (2018) (Interview regarding the issue of knife crime and how staff can raise awareness in school) [Personal communication: 30 April 2018]
Cheshire Constabulary (2017) ‘Safer Schools and Young People Partnership’ <https://www.cheshire.police.uk/advice-and-support/children-and-young-peoples-safety/safer-schools-and-young-people-partnership/safer-schools-and-young-people-partnership-community-projects/> [Accessed: 25 May 2018]
Gov.UK (2017) ‘School discipline and exclusions’, ‘Searches’ <https://www.gov.uk/school-discipline-exclusions/searches> [Accessed: 09 April 2018]
PSHE Association (2016) ‘Programme of Study for PSHE Education (Key stages 1 – 5)’ p.24-26 <https://www.pshe-association.org.uk/curriculum-and-resources/resources/programme-study-pshe-education-key-stages-1%E2%80%935> [Accessed: 1 June 2018]
Police.UK (2016) ‘Possession of weapons’ <https://www.police.uk/crime-prevention-advice/possession-of-weapons/> [Accessed: 04 June 2018]
Metropolitan Police Service (2010) ‘Safe’, ‘Knife and gun crime’ <https://safe.met.police.uk/knife_crime_and_gun_crime/consequences_and_the_law.html> [Accessed: 04 June 2018]
1 A good reason for carrying a knife would be for professional use or exhibitive reasons, e.g. displaying in a museum.