Plan to return police to schools

Experts assess whether revisiting proposals for police in schools can solve rise in youth violence.

A cross-party group of MPs has called for police to be based in schools in response to the "social emergency" caused by rising levels of youth violence.

In its Serious Youth Violence report, the parliamentary home affairs committee concludes the government's response to youth violence has been "completely inadequate", criticising its focus on developing a "public health" approach to tackling it.

It says knife offences have increased by more than 70 per cent in the past five years and highlights a rise of more than a third in the number of under-18s admitted to hospital with knife-related injuries between 2017 and 2018.

As part of an increased investment in neighbourhood policing, the committee recommends that a dedicated school police officer be placed in every school in areas with an above-average risk of serious youth violence. This should happen by next April, it says.

Old idea

The idea, while receiving support from education leaders, is not a new one - in 2009, the then Labour government introduced the Safer Schools Partnership programme that saw police officers stationed in schools.

A CYP Now investigation in 2014 found that more than a third of police forces had cut the number of dedicated officers attached to schools, meaning that half of force areas no longer had a single officer based on a school campus.

At the time, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said the reduction was a "worry" and school-based officers were "really valued" by schools.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, says such a presence in schools sends out "incredibly powerful signals" to young people which help them understand the role officers play in the community.

From a police perspective, it also helped them to gain an insight into some of the issues faced by young people, some of whom they might have already encountered in "negative scenarios" outside of school hours, Barton adds.

"We support this recommendation, but it's a shame it's been lost in so many schools and we are having to go back to something we think was having a positive effect," he adds.

The Youth Justice Board (YJB) say police play a vital role in supporting children who offend and ensuring other young people feel safe in their communities.

"This initiative could help with both if implemented sensitively and sensibly," a YJB spokesman adds.

Barton says the benefits of school-based officers were better understood in hindsight and had helped to address some of the issues around social cohesion, particularly important in areas of high violence.

"We probably didn't realise how important it was, but anything that connects schools to communities has got to be a good thing," he says.

"Time and money invested in building children's attitudes to authority is likely to mean that we have a safer society later on."

Methods such as an officer walking around school premises with a member of staff to greet pupils or leading an assembly with a particular year group were effective in helping to "humanise" the police in schools, says Barton.

More clarification

However, John Pitts, Vauxhall professor of socio-legal studies at the University of Bedfordshire, says further clarification about the role is needed.

"What remains unexplored is what the police are supposed to do when they are there," he adds.

Pitts believes officers could prove useful in improving information sharing between agencies.

"Schools have a lot of information about the children, violence, about when conflict is likely to happen - but a lot of that intelligence never gets fed into multi-agency decision making," he says. "Police as a link role between the school and the other agencies in youth crime reduction initiatives could be very important.

"If they could link them into their local football club, for example, or even make them aware of the likely consequences of their behaviour, that would be very useful."

Both Barton and Pitts agree police officers could be shared among schools, particularly if the setting was part of a multi-academy trust or belonged to a family of schools.

"There needs to be some nuance around that as some schools could benefit greatly from having their own officer," says Barton.

"You'd like to think that every child in every secondary school has a positive encounter with a member of the police force irrespective of where that school happens to be."

London takes the lead on police in schools

Plans were announced by the Metropolitan Police earlier this year to increase the number of officers working full-time in schools in London in response to growing concerns about rising knife crime.

With currently 420 officers based in schools - up from 280 in the past 18 months - the Met aims to increase this further to 600.

Speaking at an inquiry into knife crime, deputy assistant commissioner Mark Simmons said the increase in officers would develop better relationships and improve engagement between young people and the police.

He said stop and search was an "important tool" if used appropriately to increase safety and reduce the chance of a young person carrying a knife.

Simmons said the force was also offering a "schools watch" programme, providing safe routes for pupils making their way home after school between 3pm and 6pm, a time when young people are known to be particularly at risk.

Nearly 80 schools have signed up to the initiative and 40 have turned it down.

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