As the horrifying trend of knife crime continues, recent murders have pushed the issue back into the media spotlight once again. The killings of 17-year old Jodie Chesney in a park in Harold Hill, London; and Yousef Makki – also 17 – in leafy Hale Barns, Greater Manchester, within 24 hours of each other commanded more media airtime and column inches than is usually afforded to knife crime.
This is perhaps because both murders failed to fit into the lazy ‘urban black youth/gangs’ stereotype that is often perpetuated by the media. It’s almost as if it has taken these two particular incidents for some people to wake up to the fact that knife crime is a problem affecting all young people across the whole country, regardless of upbringing or social class.
Therefore, the debate about the causes of (and blame for) knife crime has been reignited. As is usually the case with politicians, this essentially means that we have seen the usual round of political point-scoring. Having said that, there are also signs of people accepting that the problem is of such magnitude now that it goes beyond ‘party lines.’
Of course, as knife crime disproportionately involves young people, schools and our education system are nearly always a part of any discussion about knife crime. Now a link has been claimed between school exclusions and knife crime.
Permanent school exclusions have been rising since 2013
School exclusions in England have been steadily rising since 2013, and the number of children being arrested for knife offences has jumped sharply during the same period. Government figures show that almost 25% of those who say they have carried a knife within the last 12 months had been either suspended or expelled from school.
London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and a number of police chiefs have linked knife crime to the rise in school exclusions. Police commissioners have warned that those who are excluded from school are at greater risk of being sucked into criminality, and much more likely to carry a knife as a result.
There does seem to be a close correlation between exclusions and knife crime, but does this actually tell us that school exclusion is to blame for knife crime?
Other factors could be driving both trends
It is likely that a combination of other factors also affecting young people are actually driving both the increase in exclusions and knife crime. The last few years have seen a rise in mental health issues, child poverty, and the number of children considered to be ‘in need’ by local authorities.
Indeed, the rise in school exclusions is a complex issue in itself. The increase in the number of young people with vulnerabilities and complex needs has been cited as a major factor. Others have blamed the narrow curriculum, or the pressure that schools are under to compete on ‘league tables’ as possible factors for the increase in exclusions.
Is it all a question of funding?
Running parallel with the discussion about school exclusions has been the debate over the link between cuts in police funding and knife crime. Police funding has fallen by 19% since 2010 and the number of police officers has dropped by 20,000. One London headteacher, Carolyn Roberts, of Thomas Tallis School, Greenwich was quick to argue that exclusions and knife crime are ‘only marginally linked.’ Instead, she laid the blame at the government’ door for stripping funding from public services.
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