2019 Summer Term


  • Lead the debate
    We are the ones running schools and colleges, so we are the ones that should be doing the thinking about the future of education rather than leaving it to those who aren't directly guardians of young people. We need to come forward and lead the education debate, says Geoff Barton. More
  • Peace of mind
    Every day we hear how our mental health and wellbeing, and especially that of our children, is deteriorating. So, what can we do in our schools and colleges to help? And how should we be responding as leaders? Young people's mental health advocate Pat Sowa, a former school leader, shares top tips. More
  • Flying the flag for funding
    Funding Specialist Julia Harnden highlights ASCL's continuing work to keep the funding flag flying high while we await more details of the government's forthcoming spending review. More
  • No limits
    Stephen Gabriel had his sights set on headship from early in his career and puts tackling inequality for the poorest children at the heart of his vision as a leader. He talks to Julie Nightingale. More
  • No magic wand
    Schools and colleges are already doing as much as they possibly can to help combat knife crime, but without sufficient resources and the help of other public agencies, schools alone cannot and must not be expected to solve all of society's ills, says Headteacher Carolyn Roberts. More
  • The struggle for survival
    As an increasing number of colleges struggle for survival, Dr Anne Murdoch summarises the government's new support and intervention policy and argues that the focus must shift to funding colleges properly to prevent them getting into difficulties in the first place. More
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Schools and colleges are already doing as much as they possibly can to help combat knife crime, but without sufficient resources and the help of other public agencies, schools alone cannot and must not be expected to solve all of society’s ills, says Headteacher Carolyn Roberts.

No magic wand

The Prime Minister is sure that the roots of knife crime are deep and there is no simple answer. She’s certain that there is “no direct correlation” between police cuts and a rise in violent crime, so a multi-agency approach is needed. On 1 April, she called for a “great cooperated long-term effort”. A summit was announced with proposals for schools and NHS workers to help tackle youth crime. She said, “We cannot simply arrest ourselves out of this problem.”

That day, a journalist asked me for a comment on the Home Secretary’s consultation to assess whether there is a ‘public health duty' to report concerns over children at risk of involvement in violent crime and I found that fury kick-started the week. Given that the above are the kinds of things that politicians say, and I’m really quite old and should be used to it, why was I so annoyed?

Reporting knife crime as a public health duty is based on Scotland’s success with inter-agency work. The reporting duty there rests on the secure foundations of comparatively well-funded public services. Yes, teachers and nurses have a duty to report, but the cases are then picked up by dedicated specialist teams in the police, the hospitals and the local authorities. If you ring it in, they pick it up. 

Stretched to the limit

We already do it, in my school and in your school. We collect evidence, act on hunches, scan the horizon and work with anyone, everyone who we think might help our children. Our problem is that there’s no-one out there with the capacity to help. The police, the hospitals and social services have financial problems as bad as ours. We can report concerns to one another until we’re submerged by emails but reporting isn’t the same as resolving.

The Prime Minister says that we cannot arrest ourselves out of this problem. And even if we could, we don’t have the police to arrest the criminals. However, we’d have them arrest teachers and nurses for non-reporting instead? How does that make any sense at all?

My school directs money we don’t really have to maintain a large pastoral and inclusion set-up. As well as a deputy head, two assistant heads and seven heads of year, we have a non-teaching pastoral welfare team of five full-time and three part-time staff. We have a family liaison officer, a support unit and three counsellors.

Even so, we are stretched. We manage a curfew at 4pm every day way out of sight of our school and last month – not unusually – we worked with the police to clear hundreds of people gathering for blood at a local green space. We use random ‘wanding’ and a huge amount of (usually) student-led intelligence and information-gathering to keep our community as safe as we can. We take time to investigate and we use exclusion when we have to. We work with parents and we always work with the local authority and other useful agencies. 

However, we haven’t had a permanent Safer Schools Officer for two years because of staffing problems in the Met. All the good work we once did to build bridges between the police and these 2,000 young people has been wasted away by austerity. Despite our spending priorities, our children are probably less safe than they were because of this. Multi-agency partnership is child protection, and it needs funding.

Far from being early identification for early help, our thresholds in England have had to rise to make intervention manageable for the few staff left to do it in the police the local authority, hospitals and child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). It seems as though a child has to be well-steeped in violence, danger and risk before anyone outside school will pick it up. Police and social care just don’t have the capacity. You’ve got a reasonable hunch and a bit of evidence that a child is in danger? Sort it out in school. 

 Working together against the odds

A nation that cares about children would spend money on policing to make the streets safer. It would spend money on schools to staff them all with effective pastoral welfare staff. ASCL knows that it’ll take another £5.7 billion to offer an acceptable standard of education. Where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also.

The deaths in London that led to the flurry of early April announcements were adults, killed by adults. Adults run the gangs and the drugs, and adults send out children to die for them on the streets. Our young people are a human shield for drugs gangs, and they can only be protected by policing. What schools do or don’t report is largely irrelevant to adult criminals.

On that April Fools’ Day, I was interviewed by Ben Brown for the BBC on College Green. I made my point, but here’s what I didn’t say, respectfully. The Prime Minister and Home Secretary are misinformed. Schools and other agencies already work together, desperately, against the odds, to protect our children and young people, and keep them safe. We already report every incident and we respond to every suspicion. Our schools are havens of safety, trust and good citizenship and, when they’re not, we take action to improve them. We are accountable, open and honest. We hold trust on behalf of children and we act with wisdom, service and courage. We don’t need reminding of our duty: we do it every day.

I make a plea to the Prime Minister to take a long, hard view at what’s needed to keep our children safe. Put back the thousands of police officers you’ve taken away, the social workers, youth workers, doctors and nurses. Make it possible for schools to find teachers and keep them. Arrest criminals. Then we’ll know what works.

We don’t need reminding of our duty: We do it every day.

Carolyn Roberts
Former ASCL Honorary Secretary Carolyn Roberts is Headteacher of Thomas Tallis School in Greenwich and Chair of the ethics Committee of the Chartered College of teaching