July ’19 – The Knife Crime Epidemic – as a sector, could we be doing more?

July ’19 – The Knife Crime Epidemic – as a sector, could we be doing more? I often visit the senior staff of inner city colleges, and when they wake up in the morning their greatest fear is not the notification of an impending OFSTED inspection, but the news that one of their students has been the victim, or perhaps the perpetrator, of a knife crime. 

The good news is that finally we’re talking more openly about this – as Brits of course we’re quite inclined to skirt around these things – but until we’re more honest, how can we hope to properly address it? We’re finally acknowledging that it isn’t random. Rod Liddle, and before that David Lammy in 2012, were both quite clear in their views – it’s affecting a very specific sector of our society. Victims – and let’s be clear, in my opinion the perpetrators are victims too – are predominantly male, 12-22 years old, members of gangs and come from single-parent families.  Let’s expand upon the single-parent family point – predominantly they’re living with Mum, and just to keep the household afloat she’s spending all her hours holding down two, sometimes three jobs. 

There has been a lot of research into the psyches of boys at the stage when they become young men. In his noted work ‘Raising Boys’, Steve Biddulph observes that these adolescent boys look for an older male role model to serve as a mentor. In our inner city context, if Dad’s not there, if the boy’s rarely at school, if they don’t have after school activities, then almost inevitably the role model or mentor they will be drawn to will be a member of a gang. 

I remember when I was growing up in West Yorkshire in the mid 1980s, and some of my friends were doing ‘old style’ apprenticeships, working as mechanics or paint sprayers and doing their day-release at the local technical college once a week. In the workplace they were clearly on the bottom rung. They made the tea, they were the brunt of the jokes and yes, they were sometimes sent to the stores for a ‘long stand’, which is exactly what they got. 

But, they were also inducted into an adult male world. They learned respect, they learned what was acceptable and what was not, they learned to be young men who could function in, and contribute to, society. They identified older positive role models, mentors, to whom they aligned themselves and those are the people from whom they learned their life skills and their personal standards.  

Back to the present, if we imagine a modern apprenticeship – or indeed any kind of education that involves work placement – what we need to realise is that as well as the qualification the young man gains, their exposure to positive role models is absolutely invaluable. Simply being in an adult male environment and seeing how mature adults interact and the values they hold dear, provides an incredibly positive template for the lives of these young men. 

As an industry, do we recognise that? Do we simply focus on funding and attainment – the traditional measures – or do we see that what we do can have a significantly more far-reaching and positive affect? 

I strongly believe that a way to help fix our ailing society is to bring more of these young men back into the workplace, to expose them to functioning adult environments and to give them a choice of selecting a far more positive mentor. Perhaps, as a sector, this is one way in which we can help. 

Paul Greenhalgh
SkillWise UK Limited 

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