Education Quandary: 'How can I tutor my 13-year-old London pupils about violence on the streets?'

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Hilary's advice

First, congratulate yourself for being a good and sensitive tutor. You have recognised how worried your students – and, probably, particularly your boys – are about it, and you have also recognised the sensitivity of the subject and how it might increase their anxiety if you get it wrong.

There are so many topics to be covered here, from basic morality, to the realities of the streets. You could look at gang and group loyalties, drink and drugs, the penalties of knife crime, and how to manage frustration and anger. You should certainly aim to give them practical tips. Your students might pretend to be super-cool about all this, but underneath they'll be listening intently for ways that they can stay street smart and out of trouble.

You also need to try to discuss – and foster – their self-esteem. Although this idea has become a monumental cliché, the bottom line is that young people who feel good about themselves are far more likely to steer clear of bad situations than those who don't.

You could also think about getting someone in – maybe from the police, or a charity such as Outside Chance, which tries to turn boys away from crime – to talk about what damage knives can do, and what the penalties are for those who carry and use them.

And ask them for their ideas and solutions. Young people are wonderfully creative thinkers, especially about things of direct and immediate concern to themselves.

Readers' advice

Tell your children that 65 per cent of people who carry knives have them turned against them. Tell them that more than half of all violent crimes are committed by people who are drunk, and more by people who have taken drugs. Tell them the smartest two things they can do to look after themselves are not to carry a knife, and not to get drunk or high.

Keith Belmont, London SE1

This isn't something any teacher can do on their own. Your school needs an overall policy to make students feel confident and be able to deal with the realities of their world. High academic standards and after-school clubs play a big part. Students feel great when they achieve, and a lot of activities use their energies up. But they also need to understand their own feelings and motivations, and how to deal with conflict and aggression. In my experience as a secondary-school teacher in a difficult urban area, this is something that should come into all lessons, not just personal and social education or tutor groups.

Diane Williamson, North Yorkshire

Last week in New York, it was a top headline that a boy had been beaten unconscious by another boy in Brooklyn, yet the same week we had our 14th fatal stabbing. Your students are right to be scared. The question is why things here are so bad now. We are worse than New York. Maybe your students have some ideas and that could be a good starting point for discussing the whole subject?

Henny Hadlow, Buckinghamshire

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary, A quick question. Army cadet corps: good or bad? My boys will soon join a school that has one. They will probably want to wear uniforms and muck about on survival courses with weapons, but I'm an instinctive liberal who abhors the conformism of the military. Do I support or discourage them from taking part?

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