Bradford school stabbing: “Response must be proportional to risk”

The news that another teacher has been stabbed sent shudders up my spine. Last year, Ann Maguire became the first teacher to die at the hands of a pupil in a school for nearly 20 years.

Fortunately, schools are among the safest of public places but incidents do happen. As I know to my own cost. Nearly 40 years ago I was stabbed by an intruder in front of a class of pupils.

The intruder was an ex-pupil determined to attack a teacher. My attack, like that of Mrs Maguire last year was a premeditated affair. My thoughts go out to the teacher attacked and his family.

The latest stabbing raises questions about whether there is a pattern developing and if such actions may now become more frequent? In one sense, publicity can create a situation where those with a propensity to commit violence may now see it as acceptable to target teachers.

I hope this case can be shown to have unique features that will continue to make such occurrences exceptional. Youth crime has been on the decrease in recent years, but it hasn’t been fully eradicated.

Inevitably, there will be a discussion about banning knives from schools and probably calls for metal detectors to be introduced in all schools. I am not a fan of metal detectors in schools as a general rule since they are more likely as not to capture the forgetful rather than the determined.

I recall visiting a New York High school the day after a pupil had been shot. There was an extensive metal detection system for everyone entering, but the gun had been handed in through a ground floor window.

Schools, in my judgement, need to act as places where trust is built up between young people and adults and treating everyone as a security risk every day doesn’t do that. The laws currently in place with regard to knife crime are also probably sufficient to handle most events.

Response must be proportional to risk. Just as the underground in London functions without searches of its millions of daily users despite the July bombings, so schools that didn’t need metal detectors yesterday, almost certainly don’t need them today.

Detectors deal with the symptoms and not the causes of violence. As a civilised society we have rightly made it more difficult for young people to be sent to prison. Do we want to reverse that trend and admit defeat? Surely we have to find a way of including all our young people in society.

Clipping from Daily Mirror, January 12, 1977
Clipping from Daily Mirror, January 12, 1977

These days there is counselling in place and that is also important. I can testify that being subject to an attack, especially one not expected and unprovoked, can leave scars that last for a lifetime.

For many years after my attack I couldn’t watch any film or play with a stabbing in it. Even Macbeth was off limits. I guess it was a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, to use today’s language, but in the 1970s you were just expected to heal the physical wounds and ignore the mental stress. Fortunately, we are more enlightened today.

I hope the school involved will put in place support for the staff and pupils and the local authority will also be able to provide support. This is another area where academies need to consider how they can react when drawing up their emergency planning procedures. That has been a hidden cost that now needs to be recognised by schools responsible for their own budgets.

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