Schools play an important role in the lives of young people. It’s where they spend the majority of their time, develop their friendship groups and grow into accomplished individuals.
Schools are a place that give young people a sense of belonging, build their confidence and enable them to thrive. But this is not the experience of many young people living in London. Many of the young Londoners we work with have been permanently excluded from mainstream education.
Young people outside of mainstream schooling can sometimes lose out on support that might be available to their peers. This is despite it being common for them to have grown up with turbulent lives, where witnessing violence and exploitation is a normal day to day occurrence. Removing them from full time education can create more instability to their already chaotic lives. It removes important opportunities, which can isolate young people and create feelings of shame.
All of this can add pressure in different ways, as a result the exclusion can be the tipping point that sees them pulled into a life of crime and violence for want of other options. It is vital that young Londoners remain – and are actively engaged – in mainstream education. We know that those who attend school regularly significantly enhance their life chances, and all young Londoners should have the opportunity to develop their full potential.
The Back to School? Breaking the link between school exclusions and knife crime report, published by a group of cross parliamentary MPs, highlights that young people who are excluded from school are at higher risk of being groomed into criminal activity and being drawn into violence. It recommends that all children and young people should be given access to full time education after being excluded – something they are legally entitled to.
By focusing attention and resources on the educational needs of young Londoners, in particular the socially excluded, we can prevent violence from happening in the first place.
At Safer London we build strong trusting relationships with the young Londoners we work with. They tell us how they’ve experienced traumatic events which can have a lasting impact on their lives. Our knowledge and understanding of trauma are the building blocks of our support. We support them to address and overcome the challenges they have faced, and move on to a positive future.
We regularly see success by responding to young people’s trauma. That is why we recognise the importance of this approach being adopted across educational settings. The teenager playing up in the classroom may have witnessed domestic abuse in the home; the young girl who starts skipping class may be getting groomed online – you just can’t tell from the outside what is happening in a young person’s life.
We all have a duty to keep young people safe. It is time to step away from negative labels that can follow a child into adulthood. Instead it is time to educate ourselves on the signs that can indicate that a young person is at risk and needs support. It’s equally important not focus on school exclusions as being the sole reason, or direct cause, of the rise in young people being caught up in violence or criminal exploitation. This is a complex issue, one where there is no quick win. However, we can have lasting change. We need to focus on creating strong cross sector relationships, work in collaboration to implement best practice, recognise trauma and provide adequate and timely support to allow all children and young people to thrive.