Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-74)


27 MARCH 2007

  Q60  Ms Buck: What exact steps will be taken to establish the clarity that you are looking for?

  Mr Coaker: First, we need evaluation of the projects being undertaken in different communities to see how effective they are and what difference they make. Part of the Chairman's point about how to evaluate them must be some means of measuring the community's confidence in what is going on and whether there is a broad consensus that a particular group is making a difference. Second, what impact is it having in terms of statistics relating to possession, knife-related crime and so on? It must be an evaluation. Once that evaluation is done we must look to see how we can support those organisations that have been proved to be effective in a more sustainable way.

  Q61  Ms Buck: When will there be an evaluation of the Safer Schools Partnership?

  Mr Coaker: DfES has responsibility for that, but I shall find out and write to the Committee.[8]

  Q62 Ms Buck: We do not know what is contained in that evaluation, because you would agree that the read across is very great?

  Mr Coaker: Yes.

  Q63  Ms Buck: One stark piece of evidence that emerged from the youth justice survey was that 11% of young people in schools said they had carried a weapon, though had never used it, rising to 31% of excluded young people, and 2% said they had threatened another person with a weapon, rising to 12% of excluded young people. Further, 78% said that they had never used a weapon in school generally, and only 46% of excluded young people said that. What is your advice to the DfES about the response to dealing with exclusion? In your mind, does that reinforce the need to take a tougher line on excluding people, such as automatic exclusion for carrying a knife, or does it incline you to the opposite view?

  Mr Coaker: I think that what it says is that what you do with excluded people is crucial. Nobody wants to see young people excluded from school for obvious reasons, but there must be a balance between maintaining good discipline in the school, protecting younger pupils in the school from somebody who may be dangerous and violent and also ensuring that if you do exclude a young person that individual is not in a situation where he or she is left to offend. My answer is that, first, we do not want to see young people excluded from school unless it is absolutely essential, and clearly the head teacher will take a view with respect to that. Second, alongside that one wants to see effective support for young people who are excluded so they are not just left in a situation where they can offend.

  Q64  Ms Buck: Do you believe that schools should automatically exclude a pupil who carries a weapon?

  Mr Coaker: I cannot imagine many circumstances in which a young person carrying a weapon is not automatically excluded at least for a fixed term.

  Q65  Ms Buck: Does it worry you that there is quite a striking variation in patterns of school exclusions?

  Mr Coaker: Having been responsible for exclusions in my previous life, that is absolutely the case. I believe that most good schools start from a position of ensuring that young people are kept in school wherever possible, which is a sign of an excellent school, but where there are problems it tries to deal with them in school and keep young people in school. But alongside that it must be right, however, that the head teacher will make judgments, quite rightly, about what is in the interests not only of the individual pupil with respect to a disciplinary problem but must also take account of the impact on the rest of the school. That is a very difficult decision for head teachers. I cannot imagine a situation where somebody who is carrying a weapon in school is not at the very least excluded for a fixed period of time.

  Q66  Ms Buck: From my experience, what tends to happen—I have observed it extensively—is that some schools are much tougher on exclusions than others. Other schools which tend to be the less popular schools to begin with end up taking all the children who have been excluded from other schools, thereby reinforcing effectively a polarisation. Is that something you have experienced?

  Mr Coaker: This is obviously the policy area of DfES and I understand that it is trying very hard to deal with it. The department does not want a situation in which a school takes all of the particular problems in that area. The DfES is working very hard to avoid that. Clearly, sometimes that is what seems to happen but as far as possible it is something we should try to avoid.

  Q67  Ms Buck: This is all very dear to my heart. In my constituency there were three stabbings the week before last in one school, which is exactly that position.

  Mr Coaker: It is horrific. The only point I make is that DfES is trying to avoid a situation where a school becomes a recipient of all the problems in a particular area. I do not believe that is good for the school, the area or the educational entitlement of all young people. Part of the solution to these issues in all our areas is the work that is being done right across government—local authorities, parents, governors and all of us—to ensure that everyone has a good school to go to.

  Q68  Ms Buck: For the record, in that school there were two stabbings and one knife threat. Another very topical point, given the DfES report on bullying, is that the Youth Justice Board conclusions were that one third of young people in mainstream education had been a victim carrying a knife compared with 18% who had not been victims. What negotiations are going on between you and the DfES to look at how to develop support services to deal with young people who have been victims?

  Mr Coaker: I should have said that the changes we have made give teachers and head teachers the power to search for knives. I expect the new changes to help schools deal with the problem of knives as well. Part of any strategy must be how to support victims and deal with bullying in school. Forgive me if I have it wrong, but has not the DfES said something about bullying today?

  Q69  Ms Buck: The report of the Select Committee on Education and Skills was published today.

  Mr Coaker: They have pointed out the importance of this. I know that DfES is working on it. One other very interesting matter is the work done by other young people in the schools to support victims. I had experience of peer group support for the victims of bullying. One needs a tough approach to discipline in the school alongside a sensitive, caring approach. The two are not mutually exclusive. Peer group support for young people who may have been the victims of bullying is also important, but schools must address bullying which is an issue in schools; it must be dealt with effectively.

  Q70  Ms Buck: In my experience, the majority of schools do not want to admit that bullying is going on. I was part of a discussion about bullying with the head of department in a school who told me that there was no bullying or fighting going on in that school. A child was called over and asked whether bullying was going on and little Johnnie said "Yes". How does this happen? To some extent it is tied up with school achievement pressures which are not the fault of the Government; they are part of a wider issue. The pressure to achieve does incline institutions, not individuals, towards denial of the challenges, whether it is bullying, carrying weapons, fighting and so forth. There needs to be a strategy to respond to that, does there not?

  Mr Coaker: One of the things that we are doing in developing the new crime strategy is that young victims, whether it be of bullying or any other type of antisocial or criminal activity, will be identified as a priority group, but generally where there is an issue it is important not to deny its existence but to outline the things that are being done in order to tackle it.. That is what people expect, whether it is a school, hospital or the Home Office wrestling with what are difficult issues. We want to work with people and all agencies on very real problems to try to make a difference, which is what people would expect.

  Q71  Chairman: I do not expect you to drop your colleagues in it, but today is a one-off inquiry. We have had a longer inquiry into young black people and the criminal justice system and have had compelling evidence that exclusion from school is a major issue in the disproportionate number of young black people being involved in the criminal justice system. We finally extracted from the DfES a report on exclusions from schools which talked in very stark language about racism within schools. A lot of the problems that you have talked about here seem to be driven by what is and what is not happening in schools, in particular the failure of the education service to deal with school exclusions effectively. First, are you really convinced that the DfES is doing everything it can to tackle these problems in the round to reduce offending?

  Mr Coaker: I am convinced that they are doing that. They are working very closely with us to try to overcome these various issues. The point I make now, and tried to make in answer to Mrs Dean's question about the Round Table and how we take forward some of these issues, is that we want to see good schools in every area and a continuing reduction in exclusions and we want to work with the DfES to ensure we get effective schooling.

  Q72  Chairman: Outside the Round Table, which has as many people round the table as this Committee, when were you last able to meet one to one with the DfES Minister and go through these issues?

  Mr Coaker: I met Lord Adonis and the Minister of State, Tony McNulty, two or three weeks ago to talk about the Safer Schools Partnership and how to roll that out more effectively across the country. Recently, I had a letter from Beverley Hughes about how we ensure that extended schools operate in all areas of the country. We are trying to improve and extend our work together.

  Q73  Chairman: It was notable that the Home Office memorandum did not mention crime and disorder reduction partnerships as a delivery mechanism in relation to the matters you have mentioned this morning. A few years ago they were seen as the main partnerships at local level that were meant to deliver across a whole range of issues involving different agencies. Why are they not part of the story any more? Has the Home Office lost confidence in them?

  Mr Coaker: They are and they should be. In talking about the ACPO/Home Office best practice guidance we need to spread it throughout local police forces. Obviously, a key part of the delivery of our agenda will also be through the local CDRPs. Clearly, the Government has a national responsibility, but there is no doubt that some strategies at a local level will be more effective in one area rather than another. In the national context we want to see effective local action, and much of it will also be through the CDRPs.

  Bob Russell: I should like to put on record my appreciation to colleagues for agreeing to hold this one-off evidence session and thank those who have made written submissions. I also thank the Minister for coming along. I believe this has been a very useful inquiry and I hope that benefits will flow from it. I just make the plea that with knife crime being three times more prevalent than gun crime the criminal justice system will reflect that and act accordingly.

  Q74  Chairman: Before we close, perhaps I may say for the benefit of the press and public that this is one of the occasional one-off inquiries we hold, so we do not produce a formal report as we do with a more extended inquiry. We hope that the evidence session including the written evidence stands in its own right. Minister, you have helpfully promised a certain amount of extra information and share with us some of your ongoing work, which we appreciate. These are issues that the Committee will have every opportunity to return to when you, the Home Secretary or the Permanent Secretary of the department is before us in the coming year. You can be quite sure that we shall want to return to some of these issues and see what progress has been made. The fact there is not a formal report does not mean that the Committee will not want to take it further forward.

  Mr Coaker: Perhaps I may also say that I shall be very pleased to come back to see what progress or otherwise has been made with respect to all of this. We have a common interest in trying to deal with these issues, so thank you for the opportunity to come before the Committee.

  Chairman: We thank you and your colleagues.

8   See Ev 22 Back

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 2 July 2007