Toughest schools to get full-time police presence

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The Independent Online

Uniformed police officers are to be stationed in some of England's toughest schools in a crackdown on truancy and crime announced by the Government yesterday.

Uniformed police officers are to be stationed in some of England's toughest schools in a crackdown on truancy and crime announced by the Government yesterday.

Under the £10m plan, police patrols will become a familiar sight for pupils at up to 400 primary and secondary schools in England's most crime-ridden areas from September.

All schools will be encouraged to forge closer links with local police forces, and children as young as five, who are at risk of becoming truants or petty criminals, will be targeted by teams of social workers and education welfare officers in primary schools.

Up to 70 secondary schools and their feeder primary schools in the 33 local education authorities with the worst levels of truancy-related crime will be offered the opportunity to have full-time police officers based permanently on their premises.

Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education, insisted there was no suggestion that armed police would patrol the corridors of England's secondary schools, arguing that most were "well-ordered" places where children were well behaved.

She stressed that the scheme would be voluntary and would be part of a package of initiatives which aimed to cut crime committed by truants.

Official figures showed that 40 per cent of street robberies, 25 per cent of burglaries, 20 per cent of criminal damage and one-third of car thefts were carried out by 10 to 16-year-olds at times when they should have been at school, she said. She also confirmed that the Government was considering cutting the child benefit of parents of persistent truants.

She told "Tackling It Together", a conference on crime and truancy in London, that no headteacher would be forced to have police officers in school.

However, experiments in schools including Pallion Primary School in Sunderland and Drayton School in Banbury, Oxfordshire, had shown that a full-time police presence could make schools and their local communities safer places, she added. A police station of six officers had been based at Pallion for more than two years, where its officers helped take lessons on morality and decision-making.

An officer, based at Drayton School for four years, has had a dramatic impact on pupils' attitudes to the police, attendance and behaviour, Ms Morris said. She stressed that she expected all schools to work more closely with their local police force. Every local education authority in England is to be sent new guidelines for headteachers and police chiefs on how they can help each other.

The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, welcomed the announcement but said it was not a new initiative. A spokesperson said: "It is not unusual for police officers to be responsible for particular schools. It is something that has probably been reduced over the years as police resources have been stretched. If these new resources can reverse this decline then this is to be welcomed."

The initiative was warmly received by teachers and headteachers, but David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, warned that the scheme had to be voluntary and said not all officers would be suitable for work in schools.

He said: "NAHT supports greater police involvement, providing headteachers control the deployment of the police in their schools. However, headteachers must have the right to vet the actual police officers assigned to their schools, because not every police officer will be suitable to work in a school environment.

"It is also crucial that the actual work undertaken within the school is approved by the headteacher, who is ultimately accountable to the governors and to the parents for the way the school is run."

Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "Putting police officers into some schools is highly regrettable but, in some circumstances, entirely necessary.

"If the presence of police in schools helps reduce violence and protects innocent teachers and pupils, then it is a welcome step."