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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
School police to target truants
Students in classroom
About 70 schools will be allocated police officers
Police officers are to be stationed in schools with high truancy and discipline problems, under proposals unveiled by Education Secretary Estelle Morris on Monday.

Officers will also conduct "sweeps" of local shopping centres to round up truants and combat rising levels of street crime.

The proposal would see up to 100 officers posted in about 70 schools in London, Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool by the start of the September term.

Percentage crimes committed by truants
Street crime: 40%
Burglaries: 25%
Criminal damage: 20%
Car theft: 33%
Unveiling the plans at a conference on crime and truancy, Ms Morris said: "The bad news is the link between truancy and crime is too great to ignore - the good news is, if we do something about it, we can actually begin to reverse it and make progress.

"The consequences of not getting qualifications, of not taking exams, of not leaving school committed to life-long learning, are more dire than they have been for any other generation of schoolchildren."

Official figures showed that 40% of street crime, 25% of burglaries, 20% of criminal damage and a third of car thefts were carried out by 10 to 16-year-olds at times when they should be in school, she said.

Ms Morris stressed that the scheme was strictly voluntary. Head teachers can choose whether or not they wish to bring police officers into their schools.

But early figures from a pilot scheme in the London Borough of Southwark show that a police presence reduced crime in participating schools by as much as 95%.

'Deterrent'

Prime Minister Tony Blair said a police presence in schools would provide a "substantial deterrent" to crime.

"There are some schools in very difficult areas where we need to reassert the strength of the majority," Mr Blair said.

He made the comments while visiting Park High School, Stanmore, north west London, with wife Cherie ahead of Thursday's local government elections.

Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling also expressed support for the plan, describing it as "very sensible ".

Estelle Morris
Morris said youth crime and truancy are interlinked
He told BBC radio: "On any one day 5,000 children in England will not be in school.

"An awful lot of this crime is being committed by children who ought to be in school."

The 10m move is part of plans to crack down on youth crime and comes a day after a proposal by Prime Minister Tony Blair to stop child benefit for the parents of out-of-control children.

The idea sparked criticism among Labour backbenchers and poverty campaigners.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills stressed most schools were "well disciplined and well-behaved with good standards and good leadership" from heads.

But he added: "There is a hardcore of schools where heads need every tool in the box to instil discipline and we are determined to give them the opportunity for extra back-up, and that includes from the police."

Welcome move

Secondary head teachers applauded the decision.

"I strongly welcome the support now being given by government to schools in combating truancy," John Dunford, SHA General Secretary said.

"Head teachers use a wide range of measures to improve attendance, but too much truancy is condoned by parents."


It is time to focus on regaining a sense of community in British cities

Phil Willis MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary for Education
But Phil Willis MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary for Education, warned that truancy and lack of discipline were problems requiring long term solutions.

He said: "Our children deserve permanent solutions to tackle the inherent difficulties of an unimaginative curriculum and lack of qualified teachers that face British schools.

"Police officers were once considered to be the centre of the community rather than the enemy who policed the area. It is time to focus on regaining a sense of community in British cities."

The funding for the project will come from a financial package already earmarked for tackling bad behaviour in schools.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mike Baker
"They hope this will break the link between truancy and crime"
Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin
"It has got to be connected with police officers outside the school"
Headteacher Russ Wallace
"I would have concern if it were to become an American-style security guard system"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
On patrol
Should there be police in schools?
See also:

29 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair defends child benefit plan
26 Apr 02 | Mike Baker
Ministers' naughty pupils problem
25 Apr 02 | Education
Crackdown on truants
16 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blunkett targets young criminals
09 Apr 02 | Education
Teachers welcome police in schools
24 Apr 02 | Education
Child labour crackdown
29 Apr 02 | Education
Softly, softly in the classroom
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