Summer school beats crime: Lesley Gerard on an unexpected success story in one of the capital's most deprived areas

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A summer school attended by hundreds of young people from one of London's most deprived boroughs is helping to reduce crime dramatically, police say. The project, organised by the education charity Cities in Schools and Tower Hamlets council since 1991 is a surprise success story.

More than 800 students from Bethnal Green, aged 15 to 22, took part last year. This year it has been extended to the Isle of Dogs and Stepney Green.

Crime statistics for Bethnal Green in July and August last year showed a substantial drop, compared with the same period in 1992. The number of attacks involving grevious bodily harm fell from 15 to four, and cases of actual bodily harm dropped from 32 to 22. There were 38 per cent fewer motor vehicle thefts, down from 40 per cent to 31 and burglaries of residential dwellings were reduced by 24 per cent, from 31 per cent to 22.

Chief Inspector Dai James, community liaison officer for Tower Hamlets, heaped praise on the project: 'I believe it has played a great part in bringing down the crime figures, he said.

'Although there are other factors too, there is a link between the success of this project and the statistics. What is really impressive about this scheme is its formal structure. It is not about offering young people pure entertainment. It offers highly structured learning. I cannot praise it enough.'

The school's summer timetable focuses on careers and social awareness using former 'graduates to help with the teaching. Charity workers call this 'peer group leadership'. The many courses include computer-aided design, working on art murals, pottery, experimental music, self-defence, performing arts, photography, hairdressing and international cookery. These are combined with a social education programme with discussions on issues such as HIV, Aids, and drug abuse. The venture is sponsored by the government-funded City Challenge.

Students range from young offenders, the unemployed, young people who are non-attenders or who have dropped out of ordinary schools to students with time to kill before starting regular college courses.

'It gives young people the chance to think about what they would like to do as a career, and a taste of vocational courses to help them make their decision,' said Dinar Hossain, project manager for Cities in Schools, at Bethnal Green.

'We have noticed that a by-product of the scheme is a significant reduction in offences in the summer, a time when the crime rate is traditionally high. We believe we are playing a very important role here.'

The courses are open to 15 to 22-year-olds living within the designated City Challenge areas. They are held in community colleges and also include project work with people with disabilities and special learning difficulties.

Martin Stephenson, chief executive of Cities in Schools, said the Tower Hamlets scheme was the first summer school in the country to put so much emphasis on structured learning in colleges. He believes such projects can complement existing summer activities schemes.

'The Tower Hamlets college courses work well alongside the more regular ventures which are fun activities. The good thing about ours is that you attract exactly the disadvantaged young people you are trying to target. Whereas in the past, summer schemes aimed at helping the less-well-off have been gatecrashed by richer parents, dropping off their kids for the day.'

He has a simple answer to the question of how to attract young people who would not ordinarily want to sit down to lessons at college. 'It is a carrot and a stick. The carrot is the social fun activities . . . the stick is the structured learning. Once we get them on board they enjoy the experience.

(Photograph omitted)

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