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Knife crime education programmes

Programmes that aim to prevent knife crime by educating children about the risks and harms caused by carrying a knife.

Insufficient evidence of impact

?

Evidence quality:

1 2 3 4 5

Cost:

1 2 3

Prevention Type

  • Primary
  • Secondary
  • Tertiary

Setting

  • Community
  • Custody
  • School and college

What is it?

Knife crime education programmes aim to reduce knife carrying amongst children and young people. These interventions emphasise the legal consequences, physical harm and emotional impacts that arise from violence involving knives.

There are two main ideas about why knife crime education programmes may reduce violence. Firstly, increasing awareness of the consequences of knife crime may deter young people from carrying a knife or using a knife as a weapon. Young people may talk to their friends and family about the consequences of knife carrying and knife crime, further spreading awareness. Secondly, increased awareness may change attitudes about how acceptable it is to carry a knife and may encourage young people to challenge their peers for carrying knives or involvement in knife crime.  

There is a risk that raising awareness about knife crime may create a misperception about how common knife carrying is. This may increase fear of knife-related violence and may increase knife carrying for self-protection. Graphic imagery of knife injuries may also be upsetting for some children and young people.  

Knife crime education programmes are typically delivered in schools, but may also be delivered in community centres, hospitals or youth justice services. Programmes tend to be a one-off, short session of one or two hours.

They may include:

  • Educational sessions on the consequences of knife carrying and knife crime.
  • Group discussions to explore attitudes towards knife carrying.
  • Facilitators sharing experience or knowledge about the impact of knife crime. For example, emergency healthcare providers or people with experience of knife crime could provide case studies.
  • Showing photos, videos or films that depict injuries or impacts of knife crime.

Supplementary sessions may also be delivered to parents, teachers or other local professionals working with children and young people. These sessions train adults to provide support or answer any questions that may come up for children and young people.

Is it effective?

We found six evaluations of knife crime education interventions. Four of these studies were undertaken in the UK and two in the US. None of these studies measured the impact of knife crime education on reducing violence.

How secure is the evidence?

The research on knife crime education programmes is very weak. There is insufficient evidence to calculate an impact rating for knife crime education programmes on reducing violence.

Studies of the implementation of knife crime education programmes in England include:

  • The Youth Justice Board Knife Crime Prevention Programme (KCPP), delivered by an emergency nurse clinician to secondary school students in four schools in Liverpool.
  • ‘Devastating After Effects’, described as anti-crime sessions, delivered to 13,683 students in 57 schools and alternative education providers in London and Luton.
  • The Simulation-based Holistic Approach to Reducing and Preventing knife violence (SHARP), provided virtual reality, simulation exercises, artistic performance and group discussions.
  • St Giles’s Trust SOS+ Community Fund Knife Crime project involved knife crime education sessions, provided mentoring for some young people, and delivered additional education sessions for parents.  

How can you implement it well?

A review of four evaluations of knife crime education programmes in England suggests the following considerations for implementation:   

Use real stories about knife crime

Children and young people find sessions more engaging and impactful when they hear stories about how knife crime has affected people, particularly when they hear directly from victims or their families. It can be hard to identify and arrange sessions with people with direct experience of the impact of knife crime, and many programmes use videos instead.

Engage skilled facilitators

Sessions receive better feedback from participants where facilitators are confident in their knowledge about knife crime and can engage in lively discussion with participants. Some programmes are run by facilitators with lived experience of knife crime, and this may encourage young people to actively engage in the session. Facilitators with specific skills or experience of knife crime may be hard to find, and this may require significant forward-planning or increased budget to pay for facilitators to travel.

Closely manage group discussions 

Group discussions can help to reinforce messages about the consequences of knife crime. These sessions need to be managed closely, to identify any situations where young people may demonstrate support for knife carrying or may threaten others in the session. This may require follow-up support for some young people.

Adapt to the local context

The content and examples shared in sessions need to feel relevant to young people, in relation to geography, situation, or type of crime. For example, sharing stories about knife crime in London or Birmingham may feel irrelevant to communities in smaller towns.

Allocate time for teachers

Finding the time to run a knife crime education programme in a school setting can be challenging for teachers. Schools need to allocate time to support teachers to manage the administration related to organising these sessions during assemblies, or to run the sessions during personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) lessons.

Provide follow up materials and support

Some children and young people may be upset by discussing the impact of knife crime or seeing imagery of knife-related injuries. Provide opportunities for children and young people to debrief with trusted adults in the days or weeks that follow a session. Provide materials that can be shared by teachers or youth workers after the session, including information about support services and how to report incidents or knife carrying.

How much does it cost?

Knife crime education programmes are likely to be low cost.  

One-off sessions delivered in schools are usually low cost because they involve large numbers of young people and are led by one facilitator. Programmes delivered specifically for children and young people identified as already involved, or at risk of involvement in violence, may cost more. This is because they typically involve small numbers of children and young people and may include multiple sessions.

Topic summary

  • Knife crime education programmes aim to raise awareness about the consequences of knife crime and knife carrying, and to deter children and young people away from carrying or using knives.
  • However, some people argue that knife crime education programmes create a misperception about how common knife carrying is, and may have an adverse effect of increasing knife carrying for young people that are concerned about protecting themselves.
  • These interventions are often delivered in schools, but may be delivered in community centres, hospitals or secure settings. There are very few evaluations of the impact of knife crime education programmes on violent crime. There is not enough evidence to produce an overall impact rating. 
  • See the YEF summary of information and resources related to knife crime here.

Take away messages

  • Don’t prioritise knife crime education programmes.  
  • Instead, deliver targeted programmes for children with behavioural difficulties, such as social and emotional skills development, mentoring, or sports programmes. 

YEF projects and evaluations

YEF funded a feasibility and pilot evaluation of Lives Not Knives (LNK) Educate. The programme was aimed at 9–14-year-olds and combined six universal workshops delivered by teachers with weekly one-to-one mentoring delivered by LNK over 12 months. The programme aimed to encourage and support young people to adopt strategies for dealing with conflict and negative emotions and to remain in mainstream school.

YEF also funded a feasibility evaluation of the SHARP project delivered by Imperial College London. The project provided two workshops to 11–14-year-olds, both of which featured simulations of knife crime incidents and encouraged pupils to reflect upon them in a safe environment. The project aimed to reduce knife crime and offer young people an opportunity to better understand the impact of knife crime.

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