What strategies can we use to tackle the challenges of youth violence?
In this fifth blog of the ‘Beyond The Gate’ series, I look to provide some practical suggestions for schools to implement in response to the challenges of youth violence.
It’s all about safeguarding…
Our school response falls very much under the ‘safeguarding’ umbrella and central to our ‘Beyond the Gate’ initiative is keeping our students safe, both in school and in the communities in which they live. Our student interventions build on a graduated approach. This ranges from a ‘universal’ whole-school approach through to ‘targeted’ small group work and on to ‘specialist’ one-to-one intervention.
8 ways to combat to youth violence
All of our targeted and specialist interventions are informed by our mapping and understanding of the risk factors and indicators and are a healthy mix of student-centered and wider community responses. They are as follows.
1. Whole-school awareness activities
These are run with the support of other agencies. They have included school ‘drop days’, guest speakers, whole-school assemblies, police drop ins, parent/carer updates and advice, bike marking and council run diversionary activities.
2. Safeguarding through the curriculum
Our PSHCE curriculum is used to raise awareness of risk factors and encourage students to make informed and positive choices. This includes ensuring that all students know how to keep themselves safe, the promotion of online safety and the development of effective counter-narratives.
3. ‘Aspire beyond’ programme
Our Aspire Beyond Programme is used to raise awareness and aspirations among groups of targeted students. Targeted group and individual interventions cover topics such as drugs, protective behaviours, healthy relationships, personal safety and County Lines. Careers advice and support, along with visits to local businesses, colleagues and universities, all support students in developing positive and pro-school attitudes as well as improving attainment and progress.
Mentoring provides targeted students with long-term weekly support. Students explore a number of protective factors that ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) research identifies as reducing risk of engagement in criminal activity. This includes the development of:
- behaviour and coping mechanisms
- positive attitudes and self-esteem
- resilience and learning strategies
- positive peer influences and community connections and activities
- trusting relationship with an ‘always available adult’.
5. Developing staff to become “agents of change”
Regular opportunities for whole staff and Governor training has embedded an understanding of the underlying risk factors to inform early identification. Our staff know our students, their families, communities and ‘influencers’. They are well placed to identify risk factors. As Craig Pinkney best describes, our staff are becoming empowered to become the ‘agents of change’.
6. Engagement with parents
This term we are running the first of what will be termly parent/carer forums. These will raise awareness of the local and national landscape and support a shared understanding of the challenges these present. They will include a number of presentations from experts in the field (such as Alison Cope and the SOS project) to raise awareness from a number of perspectives.
With the support of the Borough Council and police, our approach has been to work with local primary and secondary schools through an open ‘community’ invite to build a shared understanding within the communities we all serve. As the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child remind us, the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is “at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult”.
7. Raising aspirations and building resilience
Positive relationships and resilience development underpin our behaviour for learning ethos. These help to foster pro-school attitude and engagement in school particularly those most a risk. This encourages students to be aspirational in their outlook. For many this means looking beyond their community and encouraging them to challenge their social norms.
Our behaviour for learning ethos has also supported us as a school in reducing truancy and exclusion rates of our most vulnerable students.
8. Fostering positivity and pro-societal attitudes
We are fortunate enough to have developed a highly supportive relationship with our police neighbourhood team and other community partners. This allows us to work collaboratively to gather and share intelligence. We also proactively promote pro-societal attitudes and positive interactions particularly between our community and the police.
Activities include regular police drop ins, proactive policing initiatives such as awareness assemblies, bike marking and cycle security advice along with combined school and police community patrols, and opportunities for teacher ‘ride alongs’ (a particular favourite!).
There are some that will question where the responsibility of schools ends and parenting takes over. I would advocate that we have a duty of care to educate our school community on how to keep themselves safe and to prepare them for life beyond the (school) gate.