Surge in pupils with weapons sparks calls for more support

Opening school buildings on weekends is among the report's recommendations on preventing vulnerable children from becoming involved in criminal exploitation and gangs

Leading schools sector voices are warning that staff need more help to keep classrooms safe, following a surge in the numbers of pupils being found carrying weapons in some regions.

Data obtained by Schools Week reveals a large increase in police call-outs to schools over the past five years after pupils as young as 10 were found with weapons. They included machetes, meat cleavers and imitation guns.

It comes as a major Ofsted report published on Tuesday warned schools don’t receive enough support to tackle rising knife crime.

Leading sector voices have now warned schools cannot tackle such issues alone, and are calling for a “multi-agency approach” to keep staff and pupils safe.

Schools cannot hold back the tide beyond their gates on their own

The Department for Education has pledged to publish its first school security guidance this spring. It is unclear whether this guidance has suffered some delay. A DfE spokesperson would only confirm that it will now be published “later this year”.

While recent knife crime reports have focused on London, our investigation provides a snapshot that issues are more widespread.

Police found axes, hammers, and a taser in schools

Schools Week asked England’s 39 police forces for figures on how many times they have been called to schools in connection with pupils carrying weapons.

Of the seven forces that were able to provide the complete data, just one did not experience a rise in reports since five years ago.

Three reported a year-on-year increase, while three forces saw a sharp rise in 2016-17, followed by slight decline again last year.

Call-outs to Devon and Cornwall schools more than tripled, from seven apiece in 2013-14, to 26 in 2017-18. That included child in possession a sword in school during 2017-18.

In Essex there were 25 calls to schools in 2013-14, but by 2016-17 this had more than tripled, to 81. It dropped to 55 last year.

Knives, axes, hammers and a razor are among the items found.

Bedfordshire was one of the few areas not to experience an increase. However, the weapons that were found there included a meat clever, two machetes, an imitation hand gun and an electric stun gun.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the fact that weapons are being discovered and seized in schools is a “testimony” to the “vigilance” of staff.

“But they cannot hold back the tide beyond their gates on their own, and they clearly need more support in the form of increased investment in policing and support services in the community,” he added.

New school security advice could be delayed

Government advice in this area is currently limited to statutory guidance on searching, screening and confiscating items from pupils. The guidance, updated in January 2018, says only headteachers or members of security staff are authorised to search a pupil for weapons.

The DfE’s consultation on new school security guidance closed last month. The draft guidance says school staff should “receive appropriate security training” and “know what to do to protect themselves and pupils from harm, safeguard the school estate and be able to determine when it is appropriate to contact the police/emergency services.”

Suggested methods include implementing “effective behaviour management strategies” and providing facilities for anonymous reporting on crimes.

Amy Cook, head of content at school information service The Key, said staff should be trained in “spotting risks to their vulnerable pupils that might later lead to violence” and to know how best to intervene.

Ofsted worried over heads’ ‘varied’ approach to calling police

In its report on knife crime, Ofsted warned this week that schools have “widely varied” approaches to involving police when pupils bring knives into school.

Some have a strong ethos against “criminalising children”, while others “firmly” believe that it is an offence.

Ofsted said there was a “vast grey area” between these two views, with headteachers’ decisions swayed by whether it was a child’s first offence, were known to have a troubled background, and whether the incident reflected prior attainment.

Schools may be doing children a disservice

Leaders also said police officers did not take a consistent approach to children when making a decision on bringing a charge.

But the watchdog found that some schools “may be doing children a disservice” by failing to follow statutory guidance on excluding pupils. It claimed the most “striking examples” were of teenage girls being excluded for carrying a knife for the purposes of self-harm.

Ofsted has now said that it is “not acceptable” for schools to exclude pupils without “considering the impact on, and the risks to, the child being excluded”.

A spokesperson for the DfE said teachers’ powers had been strengthened to allow them to take action if they suspect a pupil has brought a weapon into school.

An extra £100 million for police to tackle knife crime was announced this week.

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