'It's Between Us And Gangs': Teachers Are On The Front Line Against Youth Violence

Author: Emma Soye

(MENAFN- The Conversation) Gang violence and knife crime threaten the lives and future of young people. Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that in London, knife crime increased by 22% in the year up to September 2023.

County line gangs have capitalised on reductions in youth services, such as cuts to funding for after school clubs, to recruit an increasing number of vulnerable young people to traffic drugs from cities into smaller towns and rural areas. Knife carrying is seen as a required form of protection against rival gangs.

In 2015, the British school inspectorate Ofsted published guidance for schools, making clear they have a role to play in addressing gang violence. Secondary schools have“a duty and a responsibility to protect their pupils”.

My recent research in an east London secondary school gives insight into the challenges that teachers are facing in addressing gang violence.

I worked with six teachers, holding individual interviews and a focus group discussion to discuss their experiences of dealing with gang membership. All of the teachers' names have been anonymised.

Read more: Rising knife crime in London is linked to austerity cuts to youth services – here's the evidence

It was clear to the teachers that some of their pupils were involved with gangs. Hamza noted that gangs were attracting children of an increasingly young age:

The teachers talked about how gangs filled the gaps left when children were by themselves. Rohan explained that many parents had several jobs and worked long hours to make ends meet. In the absence of parents or youth services, gangs could take advantage of vulnerable young people outside school:

Another teacher, Ana, said that gangs offered vulnerable students a sense of belonging, as well as food or material goods.“It's definitely a sense of community, and they're like family, basically,” she said.“And so it's like if they're – if that's the only person who's kind of offering you that... sanctuary, well, immediately, that's something desirable.”

Teachers talked about performing roles that went beyond their jobs. fizkes/Shutterstock

Other studies confirm that gangs offer a sense of belonging and act as family systems.

Research shows that inequality, poverty, and lack of social and economic opportunities are risk factors for gang involvement. This challenges racialised depictions of gang violence in the British media, pointing instead to the socioeconomic roots of the issue.

Teachers' work

The end of the school day was at a different time to other schools in the borough, so that students would not be leaving at the same time as potential rival gang members from different schools. Teachers acted as monitors at the school gates, and were also required to control violence during the school day. Hamza said:

In the focus group, teachers described themselves as“security guards” and“police officers”:

Hamza felt that teachers were having to take on responsibilities that went far beyond their role as educators – and that they were stepping into a gap left by others.“It's between us and gangs,” he said, talking of the choices young people were making in their teens.

Schools and teachers cannot address gang violence on their own – and they should not have to. Rather, whole communities should be involved in tackling youth violence, with the government support they need.

The Conversation


The Conversation

Legal Disclaimer:
MENAFN provides the information “as is” without warranty of any kind. We do not accept any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, content, images, videos, licenses, completeness, legality, or reliability of the information contained in this article. If you have any complaints or copyright issues related to this article, kindly contact the provider above.