Schools must not become like prisons in fight against knife crime, headteacher warns

Ian Potter, headteacher of Bay House Chool, Gosport
Ian Potter, headteacher of Bay House Chool, Gosport
Andrew Corrigan

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SCHOOLS must remain at the ‘heart of the community’ and not become like prisons, a teacher and union officials have said.

The comment comes as Johnston Press Investigations, which includes The News and its sister paper i, found that each day a child will be caught carrying a knife into school across the UK.

A girl is threatened with a knife (picture posed by model)

A girl is threatened with a knife (picture posed by model)

In Hampshire, the number of pupils caught has more than doubled in five years.

A survey run by Johnston Press Investigations found two-thirds of people who responded supported bringing in body scanners.

About 33 per cent of the respondents, 1,000 adults between the ages of 25-64, said they did not.

More than 80 per cent of people said teachers should search pupils they feared were carrying knives.

Amanda Martin is executive member for Portsmouth, Southampton, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in the NUT section of the National Education Union.

She said teachers have to strike a ‘fine balance’ in deciding whether or not to search pupils they fear may be carrying a blade.

She said: ‘As a teacher you need to protect yourself and other children in the class.

‘If your school has robust discipline behaviour policies then you can work with senior management and outside agencies.

‘Incidents are one-off and extreme, I don’t think teachers think about it every day because there’s so much else to think about.

‘If there’s a pupil that does it out the blue, or is prone to that behaviour, as a teacher you do what you need to do in the classroom.

‘We’re one of the best-placed people to (spot if a child has a weapon).

‘It’s about equipping teachers to spot the signs.

‘Some time ago when government wanted us to search pupils for weapons, it’s as if we’re Customs and Excise and that’s not our job.

‘It’s about building up the trust and with others so that they tell you if they think something is going to happen.’

She said teachers do not have time to teach about knife crime, and due to cuts police do not come into schools as often.

Teachers can search without consent and schools are able to install body scanners.

But Gosport headteacher Ian Potter said installing body scanners would render schools ‘akin to places where people are locked up’.

Mr Potter, headteacher at Bay House secondary school, said: ‘I would prefer not to have them because I would prefer not to create an image that schools are akin to places where people are locked in.

‘I would like to see the school as the heart of the community.

‘When I visit schools in America and they have signs saying “it’s a federal offence to take a gun into schools”, I find it good we don’t find it necessary to do that.’

Mr Potter, who has been teaching since 1987, said schools were more aware of knife crime.

He added: ‘Obviously it’s a concern if youngsters feel that they can get away with bringing a knife into school.

‘But then sometimes what one person describes as a knife another person says is a penknife.

‘There is concern, but it might be because we’re sensitive to the concern.

‘Schools have been more on it in terms of finding out that a youngster does have a knife in their possession.’

The investigation found records of knife possession may not show the full picture as some incidents are not reported to police.

Mr Potter said: ‘Schools are places of learning and you make a judgment call as a professional what is going to be most effective way for that child to learn the consequences of their choice.

‘You make a judgment call as to whether you involve outside agencies or whether involving the parents is sufficient.

‘I would encourage people to continue to be confident in making those judgment calls.’