How Can We Address Gang Culture In Schools?

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Are we doing enough to address the increase of gang activity?

Gang activity is increasingly spreading from urban to suburban and rural areas, and youth violence is on the increase. Raising awareness and building resilience against the negative influences of gang life is crucial.

Most feared gangs

In March 2016 Sheldon Thomas (@SheldonThomas3) wrote an article in the Daily Mail entitled ‘The Spread Of The City Super Gangs’ in which he warned:

“The drug lords of Middle England: London’s most feared criminal gangs invade England’s green and pleasant shires”.

Sheldon was right, yet without the crime figures to back this up, and with other more pressing agendas, this warning went unnoticed by educators and policy makers.

Fast forward to June 2018, and as Gary Younge (@GaryYounge) states in his article ‘The Radical Lessons of a Year Reporting on Knife Crime’ in The Guardian, “…the knife crime crisis is national”. This time the evidence is damning. Aside from the almost weekly news reports of another murder, research now suggests that more than 30,000 children aged between 10 and 15 now say that they are in gangs, whilst the Children’s Commissioner For England & Wales, Anne Longfield, said analysis by her office showed that a total of 70,000 young people aged up to 25 are feared to be part of a gang network.

60 students in gangs per school?

Nationally, this means that for an average secondary school, some 60+ students could be affiliated to a gang. The current murder toll in London, now reportedly more dangerous than New York, shows an ever-increasing obituary of knife related deaths and spiraling levels of violent crime. Are our schools are operating like islands and failing to recognise the size of the problem in their communities?

County lines

The gang ‘crisis’ is no longer an urban issue. The explosion of ‘county lines’ and glorification of the trappings of gang life on social media have, among other factors, pushed the boundaries beyond the city limits into affluent green belts and beyond. For example, in the North London Green Belt, youth on youth robbery is up 114%; on our doorstep, this figure has increased by 145% and student and parent anxiety has reached unprecedented levels. Similar patterns are reflected across the county, with a significant increase within the last year in the involvement of under 18s in incidents classed by the Police as ‘high harm’.

Something has definitely changed – the Super Gangs have invaded. Yet, within education, there remains a significant void on this issue at a time when we should be educating our students. All students are now at risk either as victims, as perpetrators or both.

As society continues to hide behind a blame culture pinpointing, among other factors, poor parenting, lack of schooling, funding cuts, a ‘broken society’, social media and drill music, we need to challenge these perceptions and view the current crisis as a public health issue – the view advocated by Craig Pinkney (@RealActionUK) among others.

Gang education

Gang culture isn’t an inner-city thing. Gangs travel and so this is a problem for every school to address. We teach students about the dangers of smoking and how to manage their mental health. So why don’t we teach them about the realities of gang life or likely consequence of carrying a knife crime?

Having worked with a number of schools and safeguarding leaders and governors throughout the summer term to share our understanding and response on ‘Youth Violence and Gang Culture’, what is very apparent is the lack of knowledge and understanding on the issues that draw young people towards violence and gang involvement.

Contributory factors such as father deficit and social marginalisation are overlooked whilst indicators such as cultural deviance, poor attendance, stress, anxiety, behavioural changes, and promiscuity are misunderstood by many professionals working within schools charged with working with, and safeguarding, young people.

County lines are met with surprise and shock. Quite simply, with this knowledge and understanding vacuum, how can students be adequately educated? Teachers don’t have the expertise to teach pupils about gangs. Instead, it is left to a small number of specialist agencies such as The St Giles Trust (@StGilesTrust) or individuals like Alison Cope (@ali_Cope) talking from first-hand experience of her murdered son.

Gang crisis

There is no simple solution. As Craig Pinkney eloquently points out, “Gangs have been here since the start of time… We need to fight the issues in society that create gangs, not the gangs themselves.” The time is now for policymakers to sit up and act. School leaders and those working with children need support in addressing the violence virus and to be street aware.

As a starter, I would advocate:

  • Inclusion within the statutory curriculum from Key Stage 2 to raising awareness of the issues from an early age.
  • Statutory training for all those working with children to support early identification and inform targeted intervention.
  • Establishing multi-agency information sharing protocols to enable far more effective mapping, intelligence sharing; and localised multi-agency collaboration.
  • Centralised funding and development of interventions and resources to raise awareness and develop the “counter-narrative”.

Useful links

Heads Together have a number of essential links to explore including the following:

  1. Gang involvement: warning signs.
  2. How you can help protect children and young people already involved in gangs or thinking of joining a gang.
  3. Preventing youth violence and gang involvement.
  4. Guidance and lesson plans designed for KS2 primary school children exploring gang issues and involvement.
  5. Briefing on the mental health needs of gang-affiliated children and young people.
  6. A website with advice and information to support young people involved in gang culture.
  7. Programmes to address gang involvement.
  8. Information and resources about gangs, including advice on leaving or helping someone in a gang.

See also The Early Intervention Foundation report What Works To Prevent Gang Involvement, Youth Violence And Crime

Over to you now Secretary Of State – it’s time to act!

Shared on behalf of Steve Warner

Steve Warner

Steve is a deputy headteacher in a large secondary school on the North London fringe. His areas of responsibility include behaviour for learning, daily operations and he is a school governor. He is passionate about ensuring every student accesses a fully inclusive education that allows them to achieve both their academic and personal potential for future success. He is developing and widely sharing 'Beyond The Gate' - a school-based response to societal youth violence.

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