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Knife Crime: First Aid in Schools

Volume 796: debated on Wednesday 13 March 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of schools offering pupils advice on what first aid to deliver, and how to communicate clearly with emergency services, when someone has been stabbed.

My Lords, we know that first aid saves lives. That is why life-saving skills are part of health education, which we are introducing in all state-funded schools. Pupils will be taught first aid, how to make efficient calls to the emergency services and, in secondary schools, CPR. We are also introducing relationships education in all schools. That will help pupils to form and maintain healthy relationships, manage conflict and get help when it is needed.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Children are learning in school how to deliver first aid to knife crime victims because they increasingly find themselves affected by violence. I commend the important work being done in schools by the charity StreetDoctors. Last week, the Prime Minister denied that there was a direct link between reduced police numbers in communities and increased knife crime and, although that was widely refuted, not least by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, many usually linked causes contribute to knife crime. One of them is permanent exclusions from school, which have risen sharply in recent years; there is a shortage of registered provision for excluded children, some of whom are thus unsupervised. Exclusions are a necessary and important sanction, but does the Minister agree that it is not acceptable or indeed legal to exclude without due regard for the impact on and risks to the child being excluded?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a very important point on exclusion. It is always a last resort to use a permanent exclusion for a pupil. Just to give some context, the percentage of permanent exclusions last year was actually less than it was 10 years ago. In 2006-07, it was 0.12% and last year it was 0.10%, so we need to keep that in perspective. We are pretty confident that there is no causal link between permanent exclusions and knife crime. However, we are alert to the need to provide better specialist provision for children who are permanently excluded. That is why we announced a number of initiatives in October, including an extra £100 million in capital for special provision for schools.

My Lords, it is sad that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, had to ask this Question, but the bigger question is why young people are being stabbed. After a decade of austerity, we have seen youth services decimated in our towns and cities and positive activities for young people are almost gone. What will Her Majesty’s Government do about knife crime, not in terms of the narrow criminal issues but in terms of creating healthy community activities?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that the causes of knife crime are complicated. We must be honest about not fully understanding them. I accept that austerity is one reason offered, but I am not certainly convinced. We have done a number of things to support young people in terms of ensuring that they have a good education. One priority of the Secretary of State is what he calls the five foundations of character—sport, creativity, performing, volunteering membership and the world of work. I commend to noble Lords a particular initiative that I am always keen to promote called OnSide Youth Zones. Nine of these are now open and six more are planned, mostly in London. They provide an avenue for young people between what are considered the danger hours after leaving school at around 4 pm until 6 pm.

My Lords, is my noble friend satisfied that the police are liaising closely enough with schools as and when the need arises? Are the Government making more resources available to the police generally to help combat this terrible scourge?

My noble friend asks a good question. In fact, about a month ago, I wrote to the head of Counter Terrorism Command in London to broker a meeting between him and some heads in London so that schools and police work together. We have introduced a number of initiatives over the past couple of years to support these areas. For example, the Big Lottery Fund invested £80 million towards the #iwill fund and £40 million to the Youth Investment Fund. In addition, in October this year, we announced the new £200 million Youth Endowment Fund to provide support over the next 10 years for young people most at risk of serious violence.

Does the Minister agree that the reduction in funding for local government of more than 30% during the austerity programme has resulted in all the preventive services being clawed back, and in those services being crisis driven? This has resulted in young people not having the alternative support services that we had become used to providing.

My Lords, I do not think that is the case. I mention two initiatives that we have introduced in the past couple of years. In terms of education, we are reforming training through the early education framework to make teachers more aware of how to effectively manage behaviour. We have recently changed the guidelines on keeping children safe in education, which again involves training and alerting teachers to be more aware of emotional problems that might arise in children. There is great need for wider awareness.

My Lords, the House might have been surprised to hear the noble Lord say with such confidence that there was no causal link between permanent exclusion and knife crime. Does he at least accept that there is a correlation between permanent exclusion and involvement in various kinds of criminality, including knife crime, and that one of the reasons why this is serious is because the alternatives to conventional schooling for those who have been permanently excluded are far from adequate and need serious review?

My Lords, as I said in reply to an earlier question, we are conscious that specialist provision for children who are permanently excluded needs to be improved. I completely accept that, which is why we have introduced additional funding. We are encouraging local authorities to bid for specialist additional-provision free schools to ensure that that provision is available.

Does the Minister not think that knife crime and so on goes beyond the police? It goes to communities, as mentioned earlier. The communities that we used to belong to when we were young and the organisations are no longer there. Youth clubs have closed in many places and youngsters are looking for alternative ways of acting together. Is it not time that the Government paid much more attention to trying to build our communities, not only in the countryside where we are losing them, but in the cities?

The noble Lord is right to say that this is an entire community endeavour; it is not down to just the police or schools. I refer him to a recent report published by Action on Violence, which looks at the case study in Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, will be interested in it. A decade ago, Glasgow was considered the murder capital of Europe but now knife crime in Scotland is at a 42-year low. That has been approached through treating it as a public health issue, which meant that the police, social, health and school sectors all worked together. It clearly has worked.