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Gangs target certain pupils, West Mercia police chief warns

By Dominic Robertson | Education | Published:

Schoolchildren on part-time timetables can face a higher risk of being drawn into criminal exploitation than excluded pupils because the latter are more closely monitored by councils, West Mercia’s deputy police commissioner has said.

Reduced class participation is one tool available to schools to avoid fully excluding pupils with behavioural problems.

Tracey Onslow told West Mercia’s Police and Crime Panel that excluded pupils “hit local authorities’ radar” faster than part-timers – a situation which criminal gangs “have changed their business model” to take advantage of.

During a discussion of his draft serious and organised crime strategy, Police and Crime Commissioner John Campion said police should be “a part of school life”, so primary-age children know they are there to help.

Shropshire councillor Roger Evans said the statistics about the criminal and sexual exploitation of children in Mr Campion’s report made “horrifying reading”.

He said: “I see in your recommendations for future action, you say PCCs should work with partners, particularly education and Ofsted, to engage with and support as many excluded children as possible.

“How do you plan to do that? I’m interested because it is a prevalent problem in all parts of the West Mercia area.”

Ms Onslow: “Something we also need to remember is children who are on part-time timetables at school also need to be quite seriously monitored because the serious and organised crime groups know that excluded children hit the radar, as far as local authorities are concerned, much quicker than those on part-time timetables, so they are moving their business model around.”

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She said the PCC’s office was changing the way it used its funds to recognise that intervening early can prevent young people becoming involved in crime.

“It’s very much diverting that funding much earlier on in the process which means working with education; not only excluded children, but also those who are on part-time timetables,” she said.

“It’s easier for them to fall below the radar.”

Telford and Wrekin councillor James Lavery said: “On the education side of things, I’ve been a school governor for 12 years and until the last three or four years we’ve had a PCSO as a governor of the school.

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“To some extent that introduced the police to the children.

“If they’re not frightened of the police when they’re five, six, seven, eight, it helps an awful lot.”

Mr Campion said he and senior officers expected all Safer Neighbourhood Teams to “have a relationship with their schools and be in them enough to ensure that relationship is consistent”.

He added: “What I would say, if that’s not happening in any panel members’ communities, talk to your SNT. If you’re not able to make any traction, talk to the local supervision or my office.”

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