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By Luke Tryl
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By Women in Westminster

If we are to tackle this epidemic of youth violence, we must ensure no child is left behind

If we are to tackle this epidemic of youth violence, we must ensure no child is left behind
4 min read

If we are to tackle this epidemic of youth violence, we must ensure no child is left behind

Violent crime has doubled over recent years, with more and more young people dying on our streets. It shames us all that in one of the richest countries in the world, thousands of young people feel so unsafe, so directionless or so angry that they choose to pick up a knife.

During the 2017 election campaign I spoke to a boy called Kelva outside his house in Croydon, he was worried about violence in the area. Less than a year later he had been stabbed to death. The stakes are so high – we cannot continue to fail our young people as Kelva was failed. 

There is no single causal factor when it comes to knife crime. If there were, we would have solved it before now. We need to look at this epidemic from every possible angle and focus on preventing crime before it occurs.

I set up a cross-party campaign to reduce knife crime in 2017, and one of the issues repeatedly raised with us by young people and frontline professionals is the impact of school exclusions – currently at record levels – on young people vulnerable to involvement in crime.

Schools play a vital role in the effort to prevent and tackle serious youth violence. Our children deserve the highest-quality full-time education that gives them the best chances in life, helps them stay away from harm and go on to achieve their potential. There are brilliant schools and brilliant teachers doing this across the country despite huge cuts.

But our All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) also heard evidence that some schools were struggling to find resources to support children and manage their behaviour, or being too hasty to exclude a child for minor misbehaviour. The 70% rise in permanent exclusions since 2012 shows something has gone seriously wrong.

Over the same period, knife crime has risen to record levels, with hundreds of young people dying on our streets. One charity told us there was a “disturbing correlation” between children excluded from school and those involved in county lines gang exploitation.

Of course, the first rule of statistics is that correlation doesn’t imply causation. The same figures could infer that increased knife carrying is driving the increase in exclusions.

More likely is that school exclusions are one of many contributing factors in the social isolation of vulnerable young people, and that both trends are also being driven by wider factors – namely the chronic stripping away of services which would once have supported young people to get the best possible start in life.

Our APPG’s report, Back to school: Breaking the link between school exclusions and knife crime, presented evidence that the increase in exclusions was contributing to a crisis in support for excluded children, with a third of councils having no spaces at all in their Pupil Referral Units.

“The 70% rise in permanent exclusions since 2012 shows something has gone seriously wrong”  

Every excluded child is legally entitled to full-time education in alternative provision, but our investigation found that too often that isn’t happening – with some excluded children getting as little as two hours schooling per day.

Our report, which will be debated in Parliament’s Westminster Hall this week, called for a government review into why so many vulnerable children are getting less support than they would in mainstream school – when in many cases they need more.

Both mainstream schools and alternative provision must have the proper funding and training, so every child gets the support they need. We know that half of excluded children have special educational needs (SEN). Yet SEN support has seen some of the biggest cuts.

We need to change the incentives for schools. Ofsted were right to change their inspection regime, but we need to go further. We need the rankings system to be overhauled so schools keep some accountability for the results of pupils they exclude.

Young people told us that lack of classroom time increases their risk of criminal exploitation & involvement in violence. Exclusions must be a last resort, and alternative education provision must be full time, high quality, and properly resourced.  We can cure this epidemic of youth violence if we start from the principle that no child is left behind.


Sarah Jones is Labour MP for Croydon Central and chair of the APPG on Knife Crime & Violence Reduction. Her Westminster Hall debate on school exclusions is scheduled for Wednesday 26 February at 09.30

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