'Kids carry knives and hammers: they have to look after themselves'

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The school sits in leafy streets still blazing with the late autumn colours - north London Victorian terraces where houses fetch upwards of £400,000. Far from being a stereotype secondary "sink" school, it's high-achieving - as the exam results show - and invariably put down as first choice by local parents.

So why does it need a policeman permanently stationed on the site?

In the week that 14-year-old

Lincolnshire schoolboy Luke Walmsley was stabbed to death in his school corridor, The Independent on Sunday spoke to a group of 15-year-old Londoners about everyday life at their own school.

Jane and her friends (their names have all been changed) are as normal as you would hope children of their age to be. They are confident and happy in school and all intend to go to university. Their parents are architects, teachers, housewives or technicians. They live five minutes away from the school and walk there and back. But while Luke Walmsley's death upset them, it didn't shock them. They spoke of daily exposure to drugs, alcohol and violence - it was so familiar to them as to be unremarkable.

So, first of all, why the policeman? "He was mainly brought in to tackle drugs," says Jane. "There are a lot of drugs in school. This area is surrounded by drug dens. It bothers me because I don't like walking past them. And it is scary to think you have to have a policeman in school - but it doesn't make me feel any safer. He can't be everywhere at once."

"It brings more authority," chips in her friend, Sarah. "Nobody listens to the teachers."

But, Jane continues: "I probably wouldn't go and see him. If you get seen then the word would get around that you were grassing someone up."

Michael says he has been beaten up twice. The girls have all been followed home, usually by older boys from other schools, although fortunately nothing has happened.

"Kids carry knives and hammers," says Jane. "One of my friends got threatened with a hammer."

Michael adds: "There are rival gangs and they carry knives and go off at lunchtime to have a fight. They bring knives to school because people know who they are, and they could be attacked on the way. They carry knives to look after themselves." They are ordinary knives, just kitchen knives say the children.

"I don't think the kids here use flick knives - though others do," says Jane. "One boy got stabbed with a pitchfork by a boy from another school. Someone got shot in the eye with a pellet, but that was an accident. And people bring in fireworks and let them off."

They don't think the teachers know about the knives or they would have acted on it. Where pupils have been caught they have been suspended or excluded.

Large gang fights are not unusual and sixth-formers have had to be issued with identity cards to stop groups of older boys pretending to be pupils and getting into the school to continue their vendettas.

"If there's an argument or fight in school one person will get their friends and there will be a big gang outside, and that can be intimidating.

They would come into the school over anything. If they heard you had called someone's girlfriend a name or something, then they would come in. It's all about pride ... They want to be harder than anybody else, they start fights over little things."

Sarah adds: "They tried to run me over on a motorbike. We were just walking down the road. It's the 'joggies' [kids with hoody tops] who have nothing better to do."

At the weekends this group blow their cash on booze. "Everyone takes drugs," says Jane. "It's mainly weed but a few people take pills, like ecstasy. They start in year seven. Boys don't smoke tobacco, although they do blaze [smoke grass]. It's mainly girls who smoke, smoking tobacco is seen as girlie.

"People go out just to drink and blaze but I go out to meet friends. I go to clubs. If I get asked for ID then I just leave."

"It's mainly the smaller clubs or new clubs that let you in," adds Michael. "There isn't any pressure to drink. You want to drink."

"A lot of people hang around on street corners," continues Jane, "until about 1am. They get drunk and shout things at other gangs. I think that's really dangerous.

Sarah says that she and a friend got drunk in school. "We were puking everywhere. The teachers just laughed, and said 'that's your lesson'. Although some are really strict."

Despite it all, Jane says: "I'm not scared in school because there are teachers there. It's more outside. If you're not involved with the gangs or the kids who fight then you are OK. I do like going to school."