Ofsted has carried out a research project on knife crime in education. The findings from the report are based on data from London; however, much of the recommendations will apply equally across the country.
Through its research, Ofsted has identified policy and practice areas that it believes need further consideration to help create an environment in which children are kept as safe as possible – this article outlines these key areas and the recommendations made by Ofsted.
Improving partnership working and strategic planning
The inspectorate’s research found a wide variation in how school leaders felt about the leadership and planning in their local areas to address knife crime. There appeared to be a lack of direction and support, various approaches to providing training, and many felt they were acting in isolation when developing a curriculum response to the risk of knife crime, keeping pupils safe and managing those who are at risk of offending.
Ofsted has recommended that local community safety partnerships should fully involve schools, colleges and PRUs in the development and implementation of local strategies that aim to address knife crime and serious youth violence. Schools need to know which strategies for preventing knife crime will work, including in different contexts; therefore, they need strong local leadership that drives the implementation of local strategies that are regularly reviewed, and to proactively engage with strategy development.
Inconsistent approaches to the criminalisation of young people carrying knives has caused confusion among many school leaders. It is important that senior leaders and school staff understand the law on knife-carrying and knife offences so that there is a common approach to responding to these incidents. Schools should have regard to the DfE’s ‘Searching, screening and confiscation at school’ 2018 document when developing their approaches.
Exclusions and managed moves
All schools and academies in London have been urged to ensure their exclusion policies reflect the practice set out in the DfE’s statutory guidance; however, as good practice, this should be ensured by all schools across the country. Ofsted has recommended that LAs have a strategic response to permanent exclusions and, in conjunction with regional schools commissioners (RSCs), challenge schools and MATs when it appears an exclusion is not in line with statutory guidance.
Schools, LAs and the government need to consider that some children who are being groomed by gangs to deal drugs or carry knives may have an adult coaching them to purposely get excluded. Once excluded, a child has fewer protective factors (including access to trusted adults) and, if they are not admitted to another mainstream school, alternative provision or PRU, they could be more vulnerable to potential criminality.
LAs and schools need to work together to improve education and other preventative work to reduce the need for exclusion and keep those who are excluded in education, training or employment. When considering exclusion, schools should ensure they have the best interests of the pupils at risk in mind, alongside the need to maintain safety in school and for exclusion to act as a deterrent.
Ofsted has also recommended that the DfE collects data from schools about managed moves in the same way it collects information on permanent and fixed term exclusions.
Ofsted found that school leaders had concerns about being able to trust the information provided to them from other schools about a pupil – sometimes information regarding safeguarding or a pupil’s needs was not complete or received in good time. Schools and colleges should share all information about safeguarding and wider welfare needs with one another when pupils move schools, PRUs or alternative provision, or move on to further education, to safeguard them and other pupils.
Pan-London safeguarding partners have been advised to provide challenge to schools and drive improvement in how well they share information with others to promote pupils’ safety when these pupils move schools or begin further education, including via managed moves or when they are permanently excluded. It has also been recommended that the Metropolitan Police Service establishes a clear and consistent protocol and memorandums of understanding with schools that ensure that the police and schools routinely share safeguarding information about pupils.
Though these recommendations are focussed on safeguarding partners in London, all schools have a responsibility to appropriately share information with partners for the purposes of safeguarding pupils or preventing crime.
Early help and prevention
Ofsted received a wide variation in the responses from school leaders regarding the perceived quality of support and intervention from LAs and other partners, and some schools were more actively engaged in local partnerships than others. Some schools have been left to deal with serious safeguarding concerns in isolation.
As a result, Ofsted has recommended that safeguarding partners involve school leaders in assessing the needs of young people in their area, and in the planning and delivering of early help services in response to those needs. Local safeguarding partnerships should facilitate all agencies, including schools, in challenging each other’s practice if they believe any agency is failing to contribute to the local strategy to protect pupils from knife crime.
Schools and PRUs cannot and should not be expected to provide all the early help support that pupils and their families need; they should be aware of the offer provided by LAs and wider partner agencies. Schools need to work with partner agencies to ensure they are contributing valuable information to assessing the needs and planning for children pre- and post-statutory social care or youth justice intervention.
Teaching the curriculum
It is important that pupils are educated about local safeguarding issues and trends, including knife crime – school leaders should consider how these issues can be implemented into their PSHE curriculum. Other ways to educate pupils on the dangers of knife crime include using case studies and facts, using drama productions and hosting assemblies.
Ofsted has recommended that the Pan-London safeguarding partners consider the ways they can support schools in ensuring the external organisations that are delivering anti-knife crime and gang affiliation sessions can provide a high-quality and impactful contribution to the curriculum.
Working with parents
School leaders should aim to raise awareness of the dangers of grooming and criminal exploitation among parents as well as pupils. Schools should consider how well they are informing parents about the dangers of knife crime, its causes and the potential signs of exploitation.
To engage parents in these discussions, schools can try holding regular meetings that cover a range of topics and inform parents of the support services they can use.
- To read Ofsted’s full report, click here.
- Our Exclusion Policy clearly defines the legal responsibilities of the headteacher, governing board and LA when responding to pupil exclusions, to ensure they are dealt with both fairly and lawfully, and in line with statutory guidance.
- TheSchoolBus’s Offensive Weapons Resource Pack contains guidance articles and policies to help ensure you have robust preventative and reactive measures in place to handle any incidents involving offensive weapons.
Ofsted (2019) ‘Safeguarding children and young people in education from knife crime’