Page last updated at 12:36 GMT, Wednesday, 29 April 2009 13:36 UK

Pupils welcoming weapons checks

By Alison Smith
BBC News education reporter

Anthony Adebowale
Anthony removes jacket and phone for the screening

The school gates at Lammas School and Sports College look like those of any other secondary school - but just up the drive, around a dozen police officers come into view.

They are not investigating a crime but, by screening pupils for weapons, they hope to tackle violence and the fear it breeds.

From 0745, a steady trickle of pupils begins - they take out a multitude of electronic devices from their pockets and file through.

The atmosphere is jovial: "Morning young man, could you take out your phones and keys and come straight through please?" asks a female officer.

Once the school bell has rung, the police pack up the portable screens in about 15 minutes and take them away, ready to screen another school on another day.

There seems to be no fear of the police here.

Deterrent

But there is fear of knife crime, and it has been building over time, says head teacher Shona Ramsay.

"It's not that there's a fear of crime within schools, but more broadly and generally," she said.

The school is the centre of the community - if you start here, the message will get out to everyone
Anthony Adebowale, 15

"In partnership with the police we need to be educating young people about this for their future, and we're taking that responsibility seriously."

High-profile crimes in east London have preyed on pupils' minds as they read about them and see them in the media.

Anthony Adebowale, a 15-year-old pupil, said this was about sending out the right message.

"It works as a good deterrent for anyone who thinks it's ok to carry a knife in the surrounding community, or on a rare occasion, into school.

"The school is the centre of the community - if you start here, the message will get out to everyone."

He said he had heard of "situations" involving weapons in the local area.

"It's a real thing - though myself I am not worried about getting stabbed," he said.

Even the youngest pupils at the school are aware of the real need to make pupils feel safer.

Marco, who is 11, said: "Now we've got the search arches, I know nothing can happen to me because the police are here to take the illegal weapons off kids if they bring them into school."

Education programme

Waltham Forest, a London borough spanning parts of north and east London, says it is the first to introduce organised screening in all its schools.

But it is telling that not one weapon has been found so far among 12,000 pupils screened.

The arches are just one part of the jigsaw of education surrounding weapons. Schools have dedicated officers, and this programme was born out of a discussion with a panel of young people from the borough's schools.

Pupils queue to be screened
A panel of pupils developed the idea with the police

The police say they are responding to what they want.

They also speak at assemblies and deliver stop and search workshops to explain to young people what their rights are if they are stopped.

Inspector Mike Hamer said although fear of crime among young people was clearly more acute than the violence itself, the police support this programme and will continue it for as long as pupils want it.

"This is not a detection exercise," he said, "but part of a whole programme of education.

"Young people tell us they want to feel safe in schools and we'll continue this as long as that is real in their minds."

Weapons are not a greater problem here than in other areas of London, says Chris Robbins, cabinet member for children's services.

And he is not worried that the sight of pupils being searched for weapons might create a negative impression of the borough's schools.

"I don't understand that. I think other boroughs are watching this carefully and you might see pressure from pupils in other areas," he said.

"We've responded to what young people have said to us - that personal safety is the most important issue for them.

"If we create an atmosphere of zero tolerance here, that will help in the community as well."

Shona Ramsay says her pupils already feel safe in school. But it is important to make them feel safer.

Teaching staff have worked hard to incorporate the weapons education programme right across the curriculum, through assembly, themed days and lessons on personal safety, she says.

"If, once we've tried this, children say this has made them feel safer, that'll be exactly what we're looking for."



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