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THE SCAR ON OUR SCHOOLS; EXCLUSIVE DAILY Mirror INVESTIGATES Kids as young as seven sneak blades into class Tutors called cop force 4,500 times in a year 47,820 pupils are excluded in assault epidemic.


THE knife culture in British schools has reached a terrifying level, a Daily Mirror probe can today reveal.

In a week that a teenager was jailed for life after stabbing an 11-year-old Joe Geeling to death and the government announced new search powers, figures show that more than 100 blades were seized in September alone.

Astonishingly, nearly a third were in primary schools, involving children as young as seven.

During the first 20 school days of September, 83 serious incidents were reported in secondary schools and 28 in primaries.

Blades seized included fish knives, bread and kitchen knives and penknives. Other weapons included knuckledusters, BB airguns and pencil sharpener blades.

In our probe into the rise in violent crime in schools, the Mirror has also discovered that:

Nearly 50,000 children were excluded from school for physical attacks last year.

In one police force, officers were called into schools more than 4,500 times.

In the West Midlands alone, 18 incidents involving offensive weapons were recorded in the first four weeks of term.

"This is a big shock," said Richard Taylor, father of 10-year-old Damilola, who was stabbed to death in November 2000, in South London.

"The authorities have allowed knife-carrying to become a culture and it deeply saddens me that this problem is so rife."

Our poll of more than 10,000 schools across Britain comes in the week that headteachers were given the right to search pupils. Schools will also be able to use security scanners and "wands".

"This will be a strong deterrent to those who bring weapons into the classroom," said education secretary Alan Johnson.

Mr Taylor added: "That will help but educating children about the dangers of knives is more important - and parents must play their part."

Labour MP Helen Jones, a member of the Education and Skills select committee, agrees that parents have a vital role.

"All of us - teachers and parents - have a responsibility to be aware of the problem. We should know what our kids are doing and make sure that they don't get involved in knife culture."

But whether doing their bit or not, our shock findings, uncovered under the Freedom Of Information Act, will further alarm parents worried about school safety in the wake of recent tragedies.

Along with the 14-year-old jailed for killing Joe Geeling in Bury, Greater Manchester, the trial began into the killing of 15-year-old Kiyan Prince, who was stabbed to death in North London.

And just last week, a 16-year-old girl was stabbed in the hand by a boy during a row at her North London school.

The main problem, according to LibDem home affairs spokesman Mark Hunter, is that it's far too easy for youngsters to get hold of knives and penalties are nowhere near tough enough.

"In fact," he adds, "it is still possible to get a longer sentence for pinching a bike than carrying a knife."

Nikki Kerr, of anti-bullying charity Kidscape is most shocked by the primary school incidents. "If this is allowed to carry on, we'll see more murders and even younger victims."

To discover the scale of the problem, we sent requests to 20,000 UK schools, asking how many incidents involving offensive weapons were reported in September.

By yesterday, as many kids broke up for half-term, nearly 11,000 schools had responded.

Surprisingly, incidents were not confined to inner-city areas but were spread evenly across the country.

The total of 111 blades seized could be much higher - only a third of schools provided figures, while the numbers do not include attacks outside school.

Some also invoked a clause in the Act to withhold information, claiming that individuals could be identified or the cost of providing the figures would be too high.

The most incidents were recorded in the West Midlands region - with 14 in secondary schools and four in primaries.

For instance, at Tudor Grange Secondary, in Solihull, knives were confiscated on three occasions, while at the International School and Community College in East Birmingham there were two incidents involving offensive weapons. But these figures may just be the tip of the iceberg, according to Norman Brennan, of the Victims Of Crime Trust and founder of the Knives Destroy Lives campaign.

"This is bad enough but what about the unreported incidents, or attacks to or from school? The true figures would be absolutely frightening."

He also believes that it is irresponsible for the government to expect teachers to carry out searches.

"Many of these knife-toting youngsters aren't frightened to use them and have contempt for authority. The police should be doing the searches."

CHRIS Keates, general secretary of teachers' union NASUWT, agrees, saying: "I have very real concerns about the appropriateness of teachers conducting searches."

Another Freedom Of Information request made by the Mirror shows that, last year, at least 47,820 children were excluded for assaulting another pupil. Of these, nearly 1,000 were permanent exclusions.

In East Sussex, for instance, 16 secondary school students and one primary school pupil were suspended for possession of a weapon.

In Hampshire, there were 2,993 fixed and permanent exclusions for assaulting pupils and staff out of a total of 170,000 children.

And in Leeds, 1,365 secondary school pupils were excluded for assaults - nearly three per cent of the total school population.

Perhaps this explains why a recent Youth Justice Board poll found that 15 per cent of children felt "a bit unsafe" or "very unsafe" at school.

The same survey found that two per cent of children surveyed - rising to 10 per cent of excluded kids - had taken a weapon to school.

Crime records obtained by the Mirror from police forces appear to reinforce fears felt by many kids.

Last year, Thames Valley police were called into schools an astonishing 4,668 times. This included 327 cases of assault causing actual bodily harm, 21 of "carrying a weapon with intent" and 38 sexual assaults.

Cambridgeshire police recorded 432 offences in primaries, including 47 assaults. In secondary schools, there 556 crimes, including 119 assaults.

In the past school year, Greater Manchester police recorded 16 crimes involving a knife in secondary schools and nine in primaries.

Merseyside police made 12 arrests for possession of weapons with intent, eight for wounding/other act endangering life and one for threatening to murder.

Despite the harrowing figures, Schools' minister Jim Knight believes they remain safe places. "But one incident is one too many. So I'm ensuring that schools can use metal detectors and 'wands' to screen pupils. Teachers can also do searches.

"Children and staff have the right to work and learn in safety and I will not tolerate anything that undermines this."

THE parents of tragic Luke Walmsley, who was stabbed to death in a school corridor by a bully, yesterday described the Mirror's findings as "shocking".

Star pupil Luke, 14, was knifed in the heart at Birbeck school, North Somercotes, Lincs. Killer Alan Pennell - 15 at the time of the murder in November 2003 - shrugged as he handed the weapon to a teacher. He was later locked up for 12 years.

Paul and Jayne Walsmley said: "As parents who lost a loving son with his life ahead of him, we're appalled that knife crime is so out of control.

"We urge the government to take action against children who carry knives, many of whom may never intend to use it. But, when they do, we know the devastation it will cause."

KATHLEEN Naylor's granddaughter Shanni needed 30 stitches to the face and was almost blinded after being slashed by a pupil.

"I thought knives were a problem in secondary schools but not in primaries," said Kathleen. "I worry that another child will end up like Shanni, or worse."

In a vicious assault, a Somalia-born pupil stormed up to the 12-year-old in an English lesson last October and whipped a pencil sharpener blade across her face.

The previous day, Shanni had gone to the aid of a boy being bullied at Myrtle Springs School in Sheffield.

Kathleen, 57, added: "Shanni still bears the scars, both physically and emotionally. If only the children who carry blades knew the devastating effect they have."


VICTIM' VICTIM' VICTIM TRIAL: Kiyan Prince was stabbed death' SHOCKED: Richard Taylor and his late son, Damilola' Picture posed by model
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 21, 2006
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