Investigation: Schools lose access to police officers as cuts bite

Investigation: Schools lose access to police officers as cuts bite

Schools are beginning to lose their access to dedicated police officers as cuts bite, with new figures obtained by Schools Week revealing a stark postcode lottery of access to officers.

Requests to police forces across England for information on their numbers reveals a mixed picture – with some forces boosting the number of schools officers, most notably in London, while others made cuts.

Nottinghamshire police force said it cut funding for nine dedicated school police officers because of “austerity measures”.

However one of the region’s schools, Outwood Academy Valley, had dipped into its own budget to continue funding a police officer on site.

The figures, from 31 forces across England, reveal that 13 don’t actually have any dedicated officers in schools at all.

Kim Johnson, the former president at the National Association of Head Teachers, told Schools Week the lack of police based in schools full-time was a “great shame”.

“They can offer a word of advice, a strong voice and a listening ear – which is very beneficial in schools,” he said. “I think schools are probably picking the slack up now, which extends beyond their usual pastoral brief.”

We view our children as important to invest in – and we want to build communities that have a good relationship with police

Of the 13 forces with no dedicated schools officers, most said that PCSOs or youth intervention officers had school-liaison briefs. But government figures, analysed by UNISON, show there was a 36 per cent fall in the number of PCSOs between 2010 and 2016 resulting from police funding cuts.
Furthermore, one in five areas also saw a drop in their school-based police numbers.

In Norfolk, the number fell from 52 in 2014-15 to 31 in 16-17.

Sergeant Tim Horrobin, from Norfolk’s safer schools partnership team, told Schools Week the number was due to a staffing change – but that there was no drop in provision for schools.

He said a total of 41 PCSOs working part-time in schools would become the equivalent of 10.5 full-time schools officers.

“We see this as the bedrock of community policing,” he said. “We view our children as important to invest in – and we want to build communities that have a good relationship with police.”

Introducing the safer schools partnership cut crimes in a 200-metre radius of schools by 50 per cent, he added, and anti-social behaviour by 80 per cent.

Last year, Nottinghamshire police force cut its number of school police officers down from nine to just one.

The remaining officer is actually funded by the Outwood Academy Valley in Worksop, and spokesperson for the force said the school applied to fund the post itself.

They added that officers were cut after a review caused by “austerity measures”, but said links were maintained with schools through neighbourhood teams.

The school did not respond to a request for comment.

Schools Week approached several large academy trusts in an attempt to find out if others had funded their own officers, but it appears this is not a widespread concept.

Johnson, who is also principal at Bradfields Academy in Kent, said he had been asked by police to part-fund a PCSO to work at the school but didn’t have the money.

“I can’t dip into my school’s budget to fund a PCSO, as much as I would like to,” he said. “It seems as though funding cuts have bitten for police just as they have for schools, too.”

By contrast, figures showed that six police forces had upped their numbers – including London (see story below).

Officer numbers up in london after knife crime rises

In contrast to the rest of the country, the number of police officers in the capital’s schools is on the rise, after the mayor vowed to make schools safer following a recent glut of knife crime.

Figures obtained by Schools Week show that the Metropolitan Police has upped the number of schools officers from 270 in 2014-15, to 295 this year – an increase of nearly 10 per cent.

The force now has officers based in 639 schools, compared with 550 three years ago.

Sadiq Khan, the city’s mayor, has meanwhile pledged to identify “youth crime hotspots” by delivering more specialist schools officers.

Khan unveiled the proposals in the police and crime plan he published earlier this year, which includes a promise to provide every pupil in London a “direct line of engagement” with police.

A spokesperson for the Met police said this means having a specialist officer based in every secondary school and college in London.

It was reported last month that 17 under-25s had died from stabbings this year. Police suggested schools install metal-detecting knife arches as one way to prevent attacks, the use of which The Guardian reports rose in the capital by 24 per cent last year.

Every child should be able to go to school in safe environment

Sophie Linden, London’s deputy mayor for policing and crime, told Schools Week that keeping children safe is one of the administration’s “highest priorities”, with schools officers having a “crucial role to play in preventing young people from becoming victims or perpetrators of crime”.

The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) said it would work with the Met to “develop a strong evidence base on the youth crime hotspots … to identify the public spaces where young Londoners are least safe”.

The evidence collated will be used to inform local neighbourhood policing plans and ensure police are on hand at places of highest risk, including “key transport hubs at school closing time”.

As part of the plans, Croydon council is piloting a new scheme at St Mary’s Catholic High School to make “personal safety part of everyday learning”.

Pupils will use drama and arts to roleplay various scenarios and understand the consequences of the difference action they could take.

Teachers will also learn how to identify and take the next steps with youngsters at risk of offending. The trial will run this year, before it is evaluated and rolled out across other schools next year.

The Met’s spokesperson insisted that the officer pledge meant they can build stronger relationships with staff and pupils – meaning previously unreported crimes will now be picked up.

“Every child should be able to go to school in safe environment and we are working hard to tackle crime in schools,” they said.

Khan has pledged to provide an additional £27 million to fund the plans, but he admitted the proposals come at the “most challenging time in the Met’s recent history”, as the force faces government spending cuts of around £400 million over the next four years.