The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced earlier this month that London’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) is investing £4.7 million in a series of programmes to tackle school exclusions and support vulnerable young Londoners through education.
The VRU – set up by the Mayor last year and the first of its kind in England – will fund programmes in schools that will work to reduce exclusion rates and provide support for young people making the transition from primary school to secondary school.
Investment will be targeted to ensure support for pupils with the most complex needs. The VRU will also fund additional provision for the crucial after-school period, following research that showed violent incidents involving young people are more likely to happen at the end of the school day.
The Mayor’s support for schools comes at a time when reports indicate the Government is renewing its emphasis on exclusions, with support and backing for headteachers to remove pupils with challenging behaviour.
However, research published by the Mayor has shown that young people excluded from mainstream education are at significantly greater risk of becoming involved in or affected by serious youth violence. Rates of school exclusions have been rising for the past five years, with the rate of permanent exclusions across the country increasing by 61 per cent since 2012/13. Often young people excluded from school are only able to have a part-time education, and become vulnerable to exploitation from criminal gangs.
Investing in schools forms a crucial part of Sadiq’s public-health approach to tackling violent crime in the capital. This follows investment in youth workers based in hospital locations, who will work to steer young people away from violence and help to address the root causes of violence. And it is on top of the £1.4m the VRU has invested in community groups that specialise in early intervention to tackle knife crime, providing diversionary activities for young Londoners.
The VRU Director, Lib Peck, visited Glasgow in June this year to hear about the city’s approach to reduce violence and the steps taken by Maureen McKenna, Director of Education at Glasgow City Council, to cut exclusion rates. Maureen’s drive to change the culture and practice in schools, the introduction of programmes that kept children engaged in school and strong support for headteachers saw exclusions reduce by 81 per cent and violence fall by 48 per cent over the past decade.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “I have been clear that we have to do everything we can to keep young people in schools, and the current approach to exclusions simply isn’t working – for teachers or pupils – and this has to change.
“Our hard-working teachers are doing everything they can to keep young people in schools and engaged with their education, but they are struggling because of a lack funding and support from Government. Evidence shows that nine out of 10 young people in custody have been excluded. That’s why London’s VRU is investing in a package of measures to support schools to reduce exclusions and support young Londoners with the most complex needs.
“The Government has said they will finally reverse some of the cuts made over the last nine years in police officer numbers, but they need to invest substantially more in policing immediately at the same time as investing in preventing crime. The best way to prevent crime is before it occurs. We need a joined-up approach with local authorities given more responsibility over school exclusions and off-rolling to ensure they aren’t misused.”
The VRU is working in partnership with schools, health services, local authorities, key community organisations and the police to divert people away from violence by making interventions at an early age, addressing the causes of violence and providing young Londoners with positive life opportunities.
This investment from the Violence Reduction Unit is in addition to the Mayor’s £45m Young Londoners Fund, which will award funds to projects in schools which give young Londoners creative and constructive activities that keep them engaged with their education.