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Whole school approaches to tackling gang violence

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.

Currently most gang prevention and intervention work in schools is focused on short term group work programmes, with less attention paid to the wider school environment. However, research suggests that creating a positive ‘school climate’ and nurturing young people’s sense of attachment and commitment to school can also have a powerful effect in protecting against gang involvement.

This paper argues that more attention should be paid to the role of school ‘climate’ and ‘connectedness’ in reducing the risks of gang involvement.

Spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development as defined by Ofsted is closely related to school ‘climate’ and to young people’s sense of school ‘connectedness.’ Schools rated strongly on this aspect are therefore a useful place to look for examples of effective whole school approaches to prevent young people’s gang involvement. The paper concludes by taking one such school as a case study.

Among their distinguishing features, schools taking a whole school approach that addresses school climate and connectedness are likely to be marked by:

  • strong relationships: every student feels close to at least one supportive adult at school, whether a teacher, mentor, nurse or other member of staff. In a mainstream environment, relationships are fostered through strong pastoral care systems often with non-teaching pastoral care staff. Approaches are in place that foster good relationships between pupils inside and outside the classroom
  • concern for pupils’ physical and emotional safety, both in and out of school: alongside strong pastoral care systems, this is likely to involve working with the police, youth offending teams, voluntary sector organisations and other statutory partners to manage information effectively. School staff will also be trained to recognise the signs and risk factors for gang involvement
  • transparent disciplinary systems: rules are clear, seen as fair, and consistently applied
  • a supportive learning environment: a range of approaches is used to respond to individual needs, with encouragement given to co-operative learning and an emphasis on improving learning outcomes for all students
  • effective staff support: investment in on-going skills development and provision of support will contribute to staff feeling valued, build up staff resilience and help maintain stability, in turn assisting staff to create a protective environment for students.