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Safer schools: keeping gang culture outside the gates

A teenage boy and a teenage girl stand in a graffiti-covered underpass. He shows her something on his phone.

The Dawes Unit was a specialist unit within Catch22 that addressed the harms caused by gangs and youth violence, bringing together research, policy and practice. The service produced a range of research, which addresses the problems caused by gangs and explores how best to prevent gang involvement and support those looking to exit. This publication is part of that output.

All children and young people are entitled to be educated in a safe and nurturing environment. 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, and challenges around the possession of weapons and the use and distribution of drugs.

There is nothing inevitable, however, about gang culture permeating through a school’s gates. This report provides a first-of-its-kind insight into pupil gang involvement in Alternative Provision schools, presenting the findings of research conducted in five Alternative Provision schools across three UK cities. It sets out a positive vision for the future, highlighting Alternative Provision approaches to addressing pupil gang involvement, and revealing the successful steps that schools can take to improve the safety and security of their schools.

Pupils are typically referred to Alternative Provision because of behavioural, emotional and social difficulties, and a general disengagement from mainstream education. The most up-to-date UK statistics show that there were around 20,500 young people in Alternative Provision in 2015, with projected figures set to remain stable until 2020.

The research had two main aims:

  • to explore the extent and ways in which pupil gang involvement raises challenges for schools; and
  • to identify best practice for schools in responding to these challenges.