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Youth Endowment Fund sets out blueprint to help schools protect children from violence

  • Two-thirds of teachers report physical assault between children.
  • 1 in 7 say a child has brought in a weapon.
  • Despite violent incidents, 9 in 10 teachers feel safe in school.

Mentoring, sports and lessons on violence in relationships are just a few of the strategies that schools and colleges can use to protect their pupils from violence, according to new guidance from the Youth Endowment Fund (YEF).

The YEF’s guidance is the first-of-its-kind for schools, colleges and Alternative Provision (AP) settings. Drawing on global evidence, it recommends the most effective approaches headteachers can adopt to prevent children and young people from becoming involved in violence, both inside and outside of school.

Research from the YEF shows that violence affecting young people is common – 47% of teenage children in England and Wales reported that they had been a victim or witness of violence in the preceding 12 months. To find out how common violence is in schools, the charity commissioned TeacherTapp to survey 9,600 teachers in England.

The new findings show physical assaults are the most common type of violence reported. Two in three teachers (67%) told the charity that a child had physically assaulted another child in their school in the last term. While 2 in 5 (43%) said a child had physically assaulted a teacher or another staff member.

In more extreme cases, 1 in 7 teachers (15%) reported that a child had brought in a weapon. Sexual assault was rarer, with 12% of teachers saying this has happened against another child and 1% against a teacher or staff member.

Schools are still safe spaces

Despite incidents of violent behaviour, most teachers believe schools are a safe space – 9 in 10 teachers (89%) either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘I feel safe in school’. Only 1 in 20 (5%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with it. The findings echo a recent YEF survey of 7,500 teenage children in England and Wales, in which 85% said they felt either ‘safe’ or ‘very safe’ at school.

What works to prevent violence

The YEF’s new guidance aims to reduce children’s vulnerability to violence by making effective support more accessible in schools.

It was developed in consultation with school, college and AP leaders and a range of prominent figures, including Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, Sir Martyn Oliver, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector at the Office for Standards in Education, and Owen Evans, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales.

The YEF makes five key recommendations for education leaders:

  1. Keep children in education. The latest figures show that over one in five (21.2%) children in England are persistently absent from school (children missing 10% or more of their school days). To address this issue and ensure children are actively engaged in their education while benefiting from the protective environment schools provide, the charity recommends using evidence-backed strategies to improve attendance and behaviour. These include meeting parents/carers of children with low attendance and offering free or reduced-price meals, such as breakfast clubs.
  1. Provide children with trusted adults. When a child is vulnerable and in need of support, having a positive adult role model whom they can turn to for help and guidance can make a big difference. Schools can facilitate these meaningful connections through sports and mentoring programmes, both of which have been shown to reduce violence, improve behaviour and develop social skills.
  1. Develop children’s social and emotional skills. Research shows that lessons and therapies aimed at helping children regulate their emotions, control impulses and empathise with others can reduce crime by up to 30%. Lessons focused explicitly on dating and relationship violence are also effective, reducing violence by 17%. 
  1. Target efforts at the places and times where violence occurs. Research indicates that violence happens more often in certain places and at certain times. Schools should consult with pupils to identify when and where they feel less safe and provide targeted, evidence-based activities in response. The charity also recommends that schools meet with local partners – such as the police, youth justice services and local authorities – to share relevant information and coordinate safeguarding efforts.
  1. Cautiously consider unproven strategies and avoid harmful approaches. Where resources are limited, schools should prioritise approaches and interventions which are supported by evidence to work. Tactics such as knife crime education programmes are commonly used in schools, but currently lack robust evidence to support their effectiveness. While research has shown that approaches like prison awareness programmes could actually increase the likelihood that children become involved in crime, not reduce it.

Jon Yates, Executive Director at the Youth Endowment Fund, said: “We know what works when it comes to preventing violence, whether that’s therapies, mentoring or social skills training. Our first-of-its-kind guidance will help schools, colleges and AP settings put this knowledge into practice.

He adds: “By bringing these services and support into schools, where children spend much of their time, we can improve access for the most vulnerable and help all children live a life free from violence.”

Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza said: “The rising numbers of children who are persistently missing school is a huge concern to me – children want to get a good education and have told me that when they need extra help, they want to receive it in school.

She adds: “I welcome this guidance, which offers clear steps for schools and professionals to take to create safe, welcoming environments that tackle the root causes of absence: mental health concerns, including anxiety, unmet Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, caring responsibilities outside of school or challenges within their family. Being in school is the best and safest place for many of these children to be, and if they aren’t there, too often we simply don’t know where they are, so it’s paramount that we tackle this problem as a matter of urgency.”

Gill LaRocque, Headteacher at Saffron Valley Collegiate, said: “When young people are struggling or facing difficulties in their lives, access to mental health support, therapies, family engagement and youth workers, can make the difference.

She adds: “At Saffron Valley Collegiate, we’re seeing the value of offering this support on-site. Our multi-disciplinary team provides our students with various opportunities to re-engage with their education and build positive relationships with trusted adults. This not only helps them to stay in school but also reduces their vulnerability to violence.”