How can schools best respond to youth violence?
To be clear, our school is a safe environment. Students enjoy attending and value the positive and trusting relationships that they have with staff and their peers. They tell us they feel safe and they tell us they enjoying coming to school.
This is why, as a leadership team, we were nervous about overtly tackling the topic of youth violence within school. We were fearful of any response being misinterpreted and any undue alarm this could cause in the school community. We also had a very real concern about possible negative perceptions from within the communities we serve.
It also raised the question about the extent to which we as a school can influence what is a much wider problem within society, especially knife crime. How can we influence what extends way ‘beyond the gate’?
For many of our students, we are their security and represent stability and somewhere they feel valued and safe. Recognition and acceptance of the issues facing our students outside of school could have been easily overlooked. However, with safeguarding at the forefront of our work, we have taken the plunge. And so began ‘Beyond the Gate’ – our school based approach to the societal issues of youth violence.
Implementing ‘Beyond The Gate’
From the outset of this work, something became obvious. Most of our teachers were simply not ‘youth violence’ aware. They had little or no knowledge of the contributory factors and indicators for those most at risk. This is the case in every school I have worked with since in this area of work.
As part of our safeguarding training all staff have had training in two areas:
- the factors that heighten the risks of engaging in youth violence or being drawn towards gang culture
- early indicators of any such involvement
For us our staff are our best resource and know our students and their families, friends, influences, and communities. Consequently, they are best placed to inform early identification of those most at risk.
We also worked with a number of local organisations to develop our understanding and shape our response.This included early engagement with the Borough Council and Community Police as well as Targeted Youth Support Service and Youth Connexions – YC Herts.
A Multi-Agency SOS
Working with these agencies provided us with our ‘way in’. This enabled us to introduce the issue without causing anxiety or fuelling any misconception that we had a gang problem in school. We were very clear in that we were responding to a community issue as opposed to any specific school based concern.
The concept behind the launch of ‘Beyond the Gate’ within school was straight forward – a Council and Police led Awareness Week involving speakers from The St Giles Trust SOS Project (@StGilesTrustSOS) to deliver a series of age appropriate assemblies on the issues of knife crime and youth violence to schools across the Borough.
Image: St Giles Trust
In addition, our Police Community Team set up a knife arch to initiate discussions on detection and students volunteered to be scanned with knife wands. Proactive crime prevention advice was offered to students including bike marking and bike safety advice. The local council and uniformed officers also offered drop ins. They spoke to parents/carers and students who were anxious about their safety or required reassurance on the measures being taken to safeguard the wider community.
And so began
Future blogs in this series will share the evolution of this work and provide school leaders with what I hope is a blueprint for a success school based response. You can read the first two blogs in the series here: How Can We Address Gang Culture In Schools and Beyond The Gate: Addressing Gang Violence.