The Office for National Statistics (ONS) last month revealed knife crime in the year to September 2018 rose by eight per cent to 39,818 offences with 29 out of 43 police forces reporting an increase. Research recently carried out by the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime showed a 56 per cent rise in exclusions in England since 2014 and one in three councils having no space in pupil referral units (PRU) in the UK, leading some to make a direct causal link between school exclusions and the rise in youth violence.
At Redthread, we see youth violence as a health issue which, therefore, should be treated in the same way as a disease. This must start with an analysis of the causes, before going on to diagnose the problem, look at what works to treat the symptoms and develop solutions. Permanently excluding young people from school is not the root cause of why some become involved in violence, however their behaviour in school should be viewed as a symptom of the challenges they face and the vulnerabilities they experience.
In January, I attended The Difference's ‘IncludEd' conference where I sat on a panel discussing the question: ‘Is it a teacher's responsibility to tackle knife crime?' There is no doubt that teachers have a unique position in schools to support and safeguard vulnerable young people. The Difference Leaders Programme, launched at the conference, acknowledges this unique window of opportunity, placing excellent subject teachers in leadership posts in alternative provision (AP) schools as part of Master's level specialist training. After two years, Difference Leaders are supported to return to mainstream education as senior leaders, to share their understanding of working with the most vulnerable young people, reducing unnecessary exclusions in future.
There are clear parallels between how we as a society respond to young people caught up in cycles of violence and the rise in numbers of permanently excluded pupils. Although some AP and PRUs are very good at providing appropriate support for excluded young people, it is not the same across the UK meaning it's a lottery as to the support available to young people. For those who aren't able to receive the appropriate support, excluding them from mainstream school is not working; although only a small minority of pupils are excluded they make up the majority of the prison population.
In a similar vein, traditionally we have tried to arrest our way out of the problem of youth violence but it's also not working; last week's ONS statistics signal an urgent need to change this approach.
As The Difference pilots a shift in traditional teacher training, we in the youth sector need to think of innovative solutions, breaking out of traditional silos, to address the complex needs of traumatised young people, whether that's in education, health, the criminal justice system or the community.
Is it a teacher's responsibility to tackle knife crime? It is all of society's responsibility to protect and safeguard our young people. More collaboration, breaking down silos of working and adopting a whole system, public health approach to tackling violence could help stop the spread of violence that can too easily lead to devastated communities and an exhausted healthcare and criminal justice system.
John Poyton is chief executive at youth charity Redthread. John tweets @poyton