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Practical help, not heavy policing, hold the key to preventing gangs

Rodney Reid reports from a conference on tackling gang culture

By Rodney Reid

Guns, Gangs and Knives – Tackling Serious Youth Violence in and around schools. That was the title of the conference held in Westminster yesterday. I went with the hope of learning something new, but merely came away with more business cards to add to the collections I never really wanted.

The conference was opened by the minister of state for school Vernon Coaker, who as a former head teacher spoke of his desire to see the perception of young people change, as to often the negative images we see on TV and in our neighbour don’t show the real picture.

The increase in those obtaining GCSEs (70%) and the reduction of young people entering the justice system (20%) were used to illustrate that there were still areas that we should be proud of.

The question posed within the conference title is simple but one which still seems beyond the grasp of those hosting the event. Early intervention is the key to fighting the appeal that young people towards gangs, if appeal is the correct term to be used, maybe lured or coercion.

The head teacher of the Robert Clack School in Barking & Dagenham, Sir Paul Grant reiterated the importance of early intervention and spoke with humour and passion about how he and his staff turned things around in a school within a tough estate.

From his staff being visible before and after school to create a presence in the community, to holding regular assemblies to praise and celebrate the achievements of their pupils. This was all good stuff, but to me it was nothing new.

I had worked within a tough Southwark secondary school back in 2000 – 04 and this was common practice but like all things the funding dries up and the crowd move on to another issue.

The possibility of young people being involved in conflict has been an ever present concern and more so over the last number of years where we have read about the loss of young lives when knifes or guns have been used.

The workshops were meant to showcase good practice and out of the four the Safer School Partnerships: at tool to tackle serious youth violence was my choice.

Again the emphasis was on early intervention and how the Police were actively working with certain school within the borough of Southwark. This although good in theory and in presentation is not the full story, especially when you consider that the bulk of secondary schools in the borough are now academies and do not welcome outside intervention which may shed light on an area it does not wish to acknowledge.

The academies are seen as the answer to education in the 21st Century, add this to the Government’s agenda on Extended Schools Services where the school will be regarded as the hub of the community offering services such as parenting class, careers advice and sporting activities.

It seems only sensible that statutory agencies are also involved such as Youth Offending Services and the Police, unfortunately that is the unpalatable part of the diet schools seem unable to swallow.

The Youth Taskforce as part of the Every Child Matters agenda will begin a week long national campaign where they will go into school to raise the profile of the problem. Its success will not only depend on the media coverage that follows it but also the willingness of those who hold the keys to education today and tomorrow.

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