Robert Halfon: We will never combat knife crime unless we address the root causes

Posted On: 
30th April 2019

A correlation between school exclusions and involvement in knife crime means more must be done to improve early intervention to help pupils maintain their education, says Robert Halfon

Anti-knife crime campaigners on Westminster Bridge in central London earlier this month
Credit: 
PA Images

We will never combat knife crime unless we address the root causes.

While many agencies must contribute to addressing the rise in violent crime, education has an important role to play. Pupils who are excluded from school are twice as likely to carry a knife, and 63% of prisoners report having been kicked out of school in their youth.

There is not an established causal relationship between such violence and school exclusions, but there is a correlation, and often an overlap in the experiences and vulnerabilities of children and young people involved in knife crime and those excluded from school.

Last summer the Education Select Committee, which I chair, highlighted how too many of these pupils are being failed by the system in our report, Forgotten Children: Alternative Provision and the Scandal of Ever-increasing Exclusions.

In March, we held a follow-up evidence session on the role of schools in tackling knife crime and we have also written to the secretary of state setting out our concerns.

As a committee, we are continuing to highlight the risks faced by young people not in mainstream education of being caught up in violence and drawn into crime. More must be done to help schools intervene early and support pupils to get the right education and the right support at the right time.

First, teachers need the training and adequate resources to identify and address the complex personal challenges that are associated with exclusions and knife crime. As Carlie Thomas from the St Giles Trust told us in our evidence session: “There are a lot of tell-tale signs before they have got to the point of carrying a knife or being excluded from school.”

Second, schools need to be much more inclusive in their approach. Therapeutic units and learning support units are an excellent way of providing support, with experienced professionals and therapeutic interventions. But if these are to become widespread, then schools not only need proper guidance from the government but are also going to need more resources.

Third, accountability and transparency must be at the heart of a new approach. In some cases, children are being excluded to massage performance statistics rather than to support their best interests. The government must ensure school performance measures take account of every pupil who has spent time at a school, in proportion to the amount of time they spent there. Local authorities should also be given much greater powers to monitor the approach of schools to exclusions.

And fourth, schools should not rush to exclude pupils. Where it is appropriate for young people to be supported outside of the mainstream system, we must make sure that this alternative provision is up to scratch. Post-16, there is barely any alternative provision at all. These students should not be forgotten, and alternative provision should not be a graveyard for human potential.

'If we can provide the right support in our schools, we can literally save lives' 

We need proper targeted investment to achieve this and we are concerned that the Department of Education is not addressing these points urgently enough.

As I pointed out in a letter to the education secretary, Damian Hinds, it is worth reflecting on the evidence to our committee of former chief inspector of schools and headteacher, Sir Michael Wilshaw. He spoke of the “painful” decision of excluding youngsters and “committing them to a miserable few years” with “a great danger of being drawn into crime”.

Our schools aren’t just places to learn, but are communities for our young people. Those with the most serious needs have often contended awful personal challenges and they need the most help. If we can provide the right support in our schools, we can literally save lives.


Robert Halfon is Conservative MP for Harlow and chair of the Education Select Committee