The tragic death of Mrs. Maguire highlighted the unpredictable nature of being a Head of Year. She was pastoral leader of 10 years, there was probably nothing she had seen or witnessed in her career which spanned 40 years. Her death brought home a few truths about the dangerous aspect of our jobs and my deepest sorrows go out to her family, friends, colleagues and pupils. The tributes left are testimony to her dedication and hard work.
I have read lots of articles this past week or so and an excellent blog by Peter Monfort about searching pupils safely but in my experience, the student who carries a knife can conceal a knife in a number of different ways.
Calls for more detectors and knife arches are not the solution but a proper understanding of your cohort is essential to deter knife crime from appearing in your school. Carrying an offensive weapon and being caught with it, results in Permanent Exclusion and, without exception, reporting to the police.
Fights between the local secondary schools were becoming less frequent. By 2010 the local council had taken steps to stagger the finish times of all the secondary schools in the borough and they liaised with London Transport to ensure more buses were scheduled for key times but the biggest difference was successfully implementing the Safer Schools Teams- basing police officers in schools.
This caused alarm at first; the reaction was similar to knife arches but as they became more and more established, teachers including myself saw an enormous benefit to the school and the wider community. They crucially reduced the number of in-school incidents.
Our in school PC was everything the Metropolitan Police could be proud of; she was firm but fair, tolerated no nonsense and spoke candidly to pupils. Pupils grew to respect her and trust her because she used her experience to bridge the gap between the street, the school and the law. She was part of pastoral planning meetings (sometimes formally, sometimes not) which provided her with up to date information about students who were flagged cause for concern and whose faces might be known to the police.
She did her job well; skilfully providing ‘back-up’ to pastoral leaders on every issue from bullying to theft. She was on-hand to provide pragmatic and sometimes legal advice from a police perspective as well be the required legal guardian so the School could interview pupils which significantly reduced the ‘fear’ factor in CP referral cases. And when it came to searching weapons, she obviously had the law on her side. When the austerity measures started to affect the MET police, she was one of the first to feel the effects and was redeployed to the local custody suit.
The impact of which was immediately felt.
Advice and techniques for detecting weapons band other illicit items:
1) Check the girlfriend (or boyfriend) and their friendship circle.
It’s not unusual for the knife carrier to pass his or her weapon on to someone to hold, especially if they know they are about to be searched. The partner is usually the first person I would search. The in-school police officer would speak to them, ensuring they understood the full consequences of carrying a weapon, aiding and abetting etc and what their future would look like if they didn’t help now.
2) Best friends will never give their mates up
It is best to isolate the best friend of the offender but not speak to him or her. Make sure you remove their mobile and search their belongings to ensure there is no second mobile in use. There is no harm in allowing the student to sit quietly without knowing what is going on.
3) Search the toilet cisterns, ceiling tiles and any out of bounds areas
The toilets are an obvious area for disposal of any suspicious items. But as weapons including guns and knives are for readily available for hire (from £10-£50 upwards) the pupil can not risk throwing them away. It’s more likely they will be placed somewhere high up like the cisterns or in the ceiling tiles.
4) Separate groups, take phones away and don’t let them turn them off.
Time is of the essence and SLT need to collect and round up as many of the friendship groups as possible. As soon as they have been removed from classes, confiscate their phones. Do not allow them to turn them off. The news that pupils are being collected will spread quicker than SLT can walk so it’s vital to make sure the phones are in your possession. Check their phones to see who is messaging them and round those up too.
5) Younger groups often will be far more frightened of teacher intervention than older year groups.
If information is short coming, collaborate with other Heads of Year to speak to younger pupils who may know the suspected pupil in or outside school. The younger pupils tend to be a little more frightened of consequences, especially police intervention than older, more cynical and street wise young people.