Safer Schools: new Dawes Unit research addresses pupil gang involvement

A new report from Catch22's Dawes Unit explores the extent and ways in which pupil gang involvement raises challenges for schools and identifies best practice for schools in responding.

12 May 2016

New research from Catch22 has revealed the scale of the gang culture challenge facing schools. Its short survey of 70 teachers found that a quarter of teachers (27%) are concerned about rising levels of gang activity in their schools, with just one in five confident enough to identify and tackle it (19%) and over half of teachers (54%) concerned enough about the issue to want further professional training.

However, Catch22’s research also shows that there is nothing inevitable about gang culture and behaviour entering the school gates. Successful schools provide a safe space for pupils; while two thirds (65%) of teachers are aware of their pupils engaging in gang related activity in the community, just one in five (22%) teachers point to gang related activity inside their school.

This research was released alongside the launch of ‘Safer Schools‘, the latest academic report from the Dawes Unit, a specialist gangs research unit within Catch22. This report provides a first-of-its kind insight into pupil gang involvement in Alternative Provision (AP) schools, presenting the findings of research conducted in five AP schools across three UK cities. While the survey shows that just 31% of teachers work in schools with links to local crime prevention charities, Safer Schools highlights the need for schools to build strong relationships with community organisations.

The Safer Schools report found:

  • when youth gang culture enters a school, this can put the safety of pupils and staff at risk and create challenging environments for teachers to educate their pupils
  • schools with a gang presence are more likely than other schools to experience high rates of violence, a decline in pupils’ educational engagement and school attachment
  • challenges around the possession of weapons and the use and distribution of drugs significantly increase.

The Safer Schools report analyses and reports the successful steps that all schools can take to improve their safety and security. These include:

  • building supporting and trusting relationships with students and families
  • improving staff knowledge and training about gang culture
  • investing in early intervention and prevention
  • reducing use of permanent exclusions
  • introducing a visible end-of-school-day presence
  • building and encourage positive links with local police.

These figures are set against a background of falling youth crime. Overall, young people were convicted of 87,160 proven offences (those resulting in a caution or conviction) in the year ending March 2015. The number of proven offences has been decreasing; it has fallen by 4% from the year ending March 2014 and by 70% since the year ending March 2005.

Dr Keir Irwin Rogers, Dawes Unit Researcher and author of the report, commented:

‘This report provides a unique insight into the challenges that pupil gang involvement raises for schools. Whilst it sheds light on a number of serious issues that schools and the wider community face regarding gang activity among young people, its essence is forward-looking and optimistic.

‘Many schools are already doing excellent work to address the challenges around pupil gang involvement. This research highlights the need for schools to build strong relationships with community organisations that are helping to tackle youth crime. At the moment, just 31% of teachers report that their school has these relationships.

‘We hope that this report will help to enhance knowledge and understanding in this area, and enable policy makers and practitioners to take proactive steps to make our schools safer.’

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