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Tackling knife crime in schools – How identifying knife crime risks amongst young people has become an essential requirement for schools across the UK

In alarming statistics released today, it has been reported that more than a thousand children have been caught with weapons in schools across England and Wales in the last twelve months. According to Freedom of Information requests, police forces across the UK revealed that pupils have been caught with the likes of machetes, swords, lock knives, pen knives, craft knives and even garden shears, in one of the most concerning studies of its type.

Perhaps most worryingly, the study found that even pupils as young as four years old have been caught on school premises with weapons.

In the wake of this news, Smoothwall’s online safety expert, Adele Abbiss, takes a look at this worrying trend and provides advice on the measures schools can take to identify those at risk and considering bringing weapons through the school’s gates.

The issue of knife crime in schools is unfortunately nothing new. In fact, it seems that the problem is only worsening. In April 2014, Leeds teacher, Ann Maguire, was devastatingly stabbed to death by her 15 year old pupil, and the statistics released today show that incidents involving weapons at schools is only increasing. Indeed, the figures showed 1,072 incidents, up from 831 in the same areas in the previous year. So what exactly is behind the concerning trend?

The root of the problem

Unfortunately, there is no one clear answer for the cause and rise of knife crime. Instead, the issue is one that has many contributing factors, making it all the more difficult to combat. Mr Barton, general secretary of the ASCL Headteachers’ union, explained that “the scourge of weapons has grown worse in recent years, and while there are a number of complex factors involved, a key issue has been cuts to policing and local support services for vulnerable families.” He also went on to explain the role that gangs are playing, advising that “gangs have filled this vacuum and often pressure and groom young people into dealing drugs and carrying weapons”.

There have also been suggestions that social media has impacted the severity of knife crime for a few reasons – one being that it almost glamourises violence and has become a ‘competition’ for young people. An investigation conducted by Sky News, found that UK gangs can view incidents as a game and keep ‘scoreboards’ of knife and gun violence committed.

A further issue social media poses is that it allows the events to happen in ‘silence’. Emojis, comments and threats can all be shared between peers on social media and can gain momentum rapidly. This has been shown to be the case in many cases of knife crime amongst students. The fact that these comments and threats are shared ‘silently’ on devices means that often teachers are unaware of these conversations. This is where safeguarding solutions, including digital monitoring, prove crucial for identifying those individuals and helping to prevent these types of events.

How can digital monitoring help to identify potential incidents?

By implementing a sophisticated monitoring tool, schools and those with a duty of care are able to review and respond to issues in real-time. Whether these threats are made and discussed via social media, chatrooms, emails or even the less obvious outlets – such as anonymous websites and messages typed into word documents and deleted in classrooms – schools with a robust approach to monitoring can step in to identify possible safeguarding issues. This undoubtedly helps to prevent incidents before it’s too late.

Monitoring works by assessing digital behaviour for content such as alarming phrases that are written in a word document, or messages sent via social media, which could imply a risk. In these situations, possible concerns will be flagged to the school’s DSL so the situation can be handled quickly and effectively. The software only captures the behaviour that is seen as a potential risk to a student’s safety and wellbeing, meaning it does not invade on an individual’s privacy and is there to protect and safeguard only.

For further in-depth information about the role of digital monitoring, how it can support schools to protect students from knife crime, and how it can be successfully integrated into a school’s existing safeguarding strategy, download our free whitepaper ‘A school’s Complete Guide To Active Monitoring’.

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