Over the past few weeks, two critical issues have been continuously prominent in the news: the ongoing teacher shortage and the rise of violent crime amongst 16-24-year olds. Whilst seemingly connected by their involvement of younger generations alone, there is a stronger link between the two. New evidence suggests that teacher shortages could be inadvertently contributing to the rise in crime.
Media reports confirm more than 50 violent murders in London alone since 2018. In the overwhelming majority of these cases, at least one of those involved was under the age of 25.
In the wake of this crime spree, the government have dedicated themselves to understanding the problem and implementing solutions. Their recent findings suggest there is a link between violent crime, particularly knife crime, and those who grow up in disadvantaged areas, with teacher shortages potentially being a relevant contributing factor.
Firstly, there is a long-term impact of the shortage crisis being observed. Expectedly, the teacher shortage is presenting an opportunity for existing and inspiring teachers to leave jobs in disadvantaged, problematic areas and move to prestigious schools in privileged areas. Over the past few years data has shown the crisis is disproportionately affecting students from schools in perceived lower income and disadvantaged areas.
The Government’s Child Poverty and Education Report found that in recent years, 54% of Head Teachers in schools located in areas with high levels of poverty said they found it extremely difficult to recruit and retain qualified teachers. This inability to recruit teachers has led to over 600,000 students being taught by unqualified teachers. As well resulting problems such as staff teaching subjects they have little to no prior knowledge on, there is no guarantee these individuals have had any training in safeguarding children or handling problematic children.
Secondly, this leads to increased exclusions in those schools. Two matters have been highlighted around exclusion: a rise in permanent exclusions and an evidenced link between exclusion and criminal behaviour. There has been a significant rise in the number of children from deprived schools being excluded. Commissioned by the Prime Minister Theresa May, the Department for Education conducted a review into exclusion which found evidence suggesting children from schools in disadvantaged areas are disproportionately more likely to be excluded.
Concurrent to this, there is a noticeable link between children who are excluded and young adults who commit violent crimes. The April 2018 Serious Violence Strategy launched by the Home Secretary Amber Rudd found personal circumstances whilst growing up, including an unstable school life, can lead in some individuals to a higher propensity for violence.
As the teacher crisis endures and disadvantaged students bear the brunt of the negative consequences, the amount of youths becoming at high-risk of being involved in violent crime rises.
As seen from the numerous government produced reports, this link has not gone unnoticed amongst high-level officials. Only three years ago, Theresa May made a pledge to deal with social injustice and put social mobility at the heart of education. Following through on these promises, she has wholeheartedly backed numerous programmes based around preventing vulnerable high-risk youths from following a path of crime.
Whilst the government has recognised that prevention and investment in vulnerable children and adolescents is the most effective way to reduce violent crime, these programmes are still in their early stages.
Over the next few weeks, a number of initiatives and trials will be taking place across the country with external input from organisations, schools, families and students being invited.
The most noteworthy of these are the potential funding programmes for teachers, funding programmes for local projects in high-risk communities and the review into school exclusions.
Over the past few weeks the possibility of cutting teacher workload whilst offering incentives to retain and recruit teachers has become more of a reality. In the last month alone Damian Hinds, Secretary of State for Education, pledged to drastically reduce the long working hours of teachers.
For the Serious Violence Strategy published this month, the government partnered with the RedThread Youth charity and pledged £11 million to local community projects in order to target high-risk individuals. This will involve specialised long-term projects and workshops tailored to the individual needs of different boroughs and challenges high-risk youths face. Over the next couple of months stakeholders will have an opportunity to bid for this funding.
The review into school exclusions headed by former Vulnerable Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson CBE who lost his seat at the 2017 election aims to look at why certain students are more likely to be excluded than others. Once evidence has been gathered, Timpson will be looking into specialised training programmes for teachers and setting up support networks within higher risk schools. This initiative is currently still in its consultation period until the 6th May 2018 here.
So while the rising statistics of violence – with reports earlier in the month of around 20 people stabbed in just a couple a weeks – are worrying, the wheels of change are not standing still and there is still time to be part of the solution.