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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 October, 2004, 07:18 GMT 08:18 UK
Knife problem 'covered up' in schools

Generic school scene
Head teachers can be reluctant to exclude pupils

A school head teacher has spoken for the first time about the prevalence of knives in schools.

He claims legislation is making it too difficult to exclude even pupils caught possessing knives.

The head told the BBC's Panorama programme that the use of knives was widespread in school and that he felt powerless to stop children bringing in weapons.

The secondary head, who works in a suburban school in south-east England, was the only teacher willing to be interviewed - and even then it was on the condition of anonymity - but Panorama also spoke to several other heads off the record who told a similar story.

Disastrous consequences

It's a definitely changing culture with the flick, switch blade right up to carving knives and meat cleavers
Anonymous head teacher

He said: "People need to be honest about the reality that this knife culture does exist and head teachers do know that young people are carrying knives."

The head claimed that knife culture within schools was rife in the 21st Century and says he once caught a 14-year-old with a meat cleaver.

But he added that it wasn't just older children who had used knives.

"It's a secondary school where I am head but I have had to take knives from primary aged children," he said.

"In the past the kind of knives would be little Swiss Army knives or pen knives, sometimes even just to have been used to sharpen pencils but more as a hobby knife.

Lack of authority

The head teacher claimed to have taken a machette from a 14-year-old

"Today, it's a definitely changing culture with the flick, switch blade right up to carving knives and meat cleavers."

He added that head teachers were scared of making public the fact that a child was excluded for carrying a knife, as it could have disastrous consequences for a school.

It could lead to loss of confidence by parents, the withdrawal of pupils and possibly the closure of the school and the end of a head teacher's career.

He told the programme: "I would have no hesitation in pulling the full weight for exclusion. But as a head teacher, you haven't got the authority sufficiently, you have to justify that decision.

"One has to explain the decision to the governing body and get it agreed that it's upheld.

Too far

It's gone too far frankly - to justify why we exclude young people when it's absolutely apparent
Anonymous head teacher

"The decision is not my own. The governors can overturn it and so can the LEA.

"And the parents will bring their representatives and they may well say - and this has happened - 'well the young person didn't use it, didn't intend using it, so they haven't done anything wrong'. All of that has to be taken into account.

"It's gone too far frankly - to justify why we exclude young people when it's absolutely apparent in some cases as to why it's essential."

There are guidelines relating to what head teachers can do in the event of a child being excluded.

Under these, the head teacher does have the power to exclude pupils without the consent of the board of governors and the LEA.


The parents must be immediately informed in writing and told about their right to make representations to the governors.

Any exclusion that would mean the pupil missing a public exam has to be reported to the governors and to the LEA.

The governing body must consider all permanent exclusions and some fixed term exclusions.

The pupil also has a right to appeal against the exclusion to the Local Education Authority.

It is now a criminal offence to carry a knife on school premises and the law states that the police should be called whenever someone is caught in possession of a knife in school.

Panorama: Your child's been stabbed was broadcast at 22:15 BST on Sunday, October 17 on BBC One.

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