2022 Summer Term


  • Follow the sun
    Geoff Barton contemplates the finishing line in what has been another extraordinary year for school, college and trust leaders. More
  • Inclusive Education
    Will the government's new special educational needs and disability (SEND) green paper address the illusion of inclusion? ASCL Specialist Margaret Mulholland investigates. More
  • Be at the Heart
    Deputy Headteacher Gurpall Badesha says joining ASCL Council is one of the best things she has have ever done and it's made her a better leader, thinker and professional. More
  • A Friend in Need
    A crippling condition forced Kate Dixon to give up her vocation, but ASCL Benevolent Fund provided help in the darkest of times, she tells Julie Nightingale. More
  • Keeping Young People Safe
    Former headteacher Tom Goodenough highlights the work of Violence Reduction Units and how, with the support of schools and colleges, they are protecting young people from a life of crime. More
  • People First Development
    Placing people development at the heart of appraisals not only benefits teachers, it can also have a positive effect on pupil achievement. Denise Inwood from BlueSky Education explains how and why. More
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Former headteacher Tom Goodenough highlights the work of Violence Reduction Units and how, with the support of schools and colleges, they are protecting young people from a life of crime.

Keeping Young People Safe

As the last decade drew to a close, a significant increase in serious violence in society gave rise to much concern across the country and, ultimately, led the (then) home secretary Amber Rudd to publish the government’s Serious Violence Strategy in April 2018 (tinyurl.com/3febv2se). 

The strategy set out a package of responses to knife crime, homicide, gun crime and county lines drug supply that attempted to strike a balance between traditional enforcement of the law in these areas, alongside a clear recognition that early intervention and, thereby, prevention were important in driving a more sustainable, long-term solution. 

The strategy made clear that this type of prevention required “partnerships across a number of sectors such as education, health, social services, housing, youth services and victim services”. 

Those of us who have spent any length of time working on safeguarding and pastoral care might have offered some sobering advice about just how challenging it was going to be to continually meet this ambition of knitting together this range of systems and structures with any coherence. 

Nonetheless, the government was determined to make this a reality and, in March 2019, came the announcement of a £100 million Serious Violence Fund to be split between ‘Surge’ funding (money to increase responsive operational police law-enforcement activity) and establishing Violence Reduction Units (VRUs) tasked with bringing that coherence across the system in areas considered to have high levels of violence. 

The VRU model 

VRUs were modelled on a long-standing Scottish Unit established in 2005 following Scotland being branded the “most violent country in the developed world”. This model was adopted for good reason as, in the decade following its creation, Scotland had seen its murder rate fall to its lowest level since 1976. The original 18 VRUs in England and one in Wales have since been joined by an additional two and, after proving their worth, a new three-year funding settlement through to March 2025 has recently been announced. 

VRUs have a clear remit and set of principles (derived from the Serious Violence Strategy and monitored by the Home Office) by which they are expected to operate. That goal of bringing strategic leadership to multiple stakeholders remains. However, alongside this, the units also aim to build additional capacity – usually in the form of funding – for community and voluntary organisations working to address the root causes of violence in society. 

Key to both aims is that all efforts and funding should follow levels of risk and need and be constantly evaluated for impact using robust data. This proactive, data-led ‘public health’ approach is now firmly embedded in the government’s response to serious violence and, later this year, is likely to form the basis of a new legal duty across the public sector. 

Under this proposed duty, local statutory bodies will be expected to work together on a plan to address serious violence in their area. While individual schools are unlikely to be directly involved or responsible for this plan, they are going to be a key focal point for early intervention work. 

Opportunity for support 

In practical terms, therefore, there looks likely to be an opportunity for schools to expect, request and shape an increased offer of support in the future. It is notoriously hard to make reliable causal links between violence, criminal involvement and factors in a person’s early life, however, we know there is at least a correlation between the challenges vulnerable young people experience and future involvement in criminal and violent behaviour. 

For this reason, VRUs and their partners are keen to support schools and colleges with some of their most intractable concerns – exclusion, persistent absenteeism, mental health concerns, drugs and alcohol abuse, and exploitation – all being areas where support for young people is likely to drive improved outcomes at school, as well as having the potential to reduce violence later. 

Examples of these successful partnerships are starting to emerge more and more frequently across the country. In Oxfordshire, we at Thames Valley VRU (TVVRU) have worked to establish the ‘Compass Partnership’ with three community sector partners, SOFEA (www.sofea.uk.com), RAW Workshop (www.raw-workshop.co.uk) and Oxfordshire Youth (https://oxfordshireyouth.org). These three highly experienced and effective partners have been providing youth work, mentoring and alternative provision support across Oxfordshire for hundreds of young people independently for many years but, as a result of the VRU’s access to additional funding (through the Youth Endowment Fund), they have been able to significantly expand their offer and support hundreds of additional young people in schools and colleges in the area. 

Personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) resources and delivery provide an opportunity to influence large numbers of young people and last year, TVVRU commissioned the PSHE Association to produce and provide free materials (tinyurl.com/2p988xh9) to support teachers on gangs, violence and county lines drug exploitation. 

School Navigators 

Over the next three years, our flagship School Navigator programme will deploy experienced mentor ‘navigators’ into schools and colleges to work with vulnerable individuals to offer one-to-one support at moments of crisis, and to signpost young people to additional support they may need outside of school. Once a young person is ready, they may then be assigned a volunteer community mentor who will work with them over the long-term to offer timely support. This type of network of community support will knit together partners across the sector and ensure young people are helped to navigate their way through a system that can sometimes seem impenetrable. 

Programmes like this are certainly not unique to the TVVRU and there are many innovative activities being delivered with and by VRUs across the country. Whether it be supporting several statutory and community groups to fund and set up a new community centre, creating large-scale sports training provision for vulnerable young people, commissioning peer mentor programmes or working with schools on therapeutic approaches to avoiding exclusion, young people in hundreds of schools and colleges are benefiting from increasingly close relationships between schools and colleges and their local VRUs. 

Get in touch 

More details on VRUs, including a list of areas with a unit, can be found at www.gov.uk/government/publications/violence-reduction-units-vrus and, even if your school or college isn’t in immediate need of support from a VRU, most have a wealth of advice, resources and relationships with other agencies that they can share. Equally, VRUs are always keen to hear from school and college leaders about how best to shape their work and deploy resources in ways that work for those on the frontline. 


In May, Tom ran an ASCL webinar entitled How Violence Reduction Units can help schools change the narrative for disadvantaged children. You can purchase a recording by emailing pd@ascl.org.uk 

Tom Goodenough
Former English teacher, senior leader and headteacher. Education and Youth Engagement Lead for Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit.

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