In previous years, gang culture was an issue which was a part of only inner-city life. Things have changed though and now schools in all environments; cities, towns and rural locations are looking to find ways to tackle gang culture. It’s an issue which can affect pupils whilst both in and out of school and whilst gang prevention work is happening, it’s more often than not a series of short term programmes rather than an ongoing realignment of the wider school environment.
Attachment and commitment
Much time has been spent over the last few years looking at gang culture in the UK. Studies show that if a school works to provide a long term positive educational climate as well as gradually nurturing a feeling of attachment to the school, then these combined result in an effect which a powerful tool to reducing and protecting individuals against becoming involved in a gang.
Ofsted has also taken a stance against gang issues by looking at the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of the school and they feel this bears a strong relation to the climate the school exists in and in turn the amount of connectivity the pupils feel. Those who receive positive comments from Ofsted in this area often have excellent policies in place to stop pupils being lured towards being part of gang culture.
Pupils who are at high risk of becoming part of the gang culture
Research has shown that those pupils most at risk of joining a gang have very specific dimensions as part of their life which makes them more likely to become part of a gang:
- Low academic performance
- Temporary and permanent exclusion
- Low aspirations from both the pupil and the parents
- Lack of whole school approach to tackling gang issues
Protective factors to prevent these issues being contributory
Those who have to repeat a year for some reason, have general learning issues and fare badly on standard tests are the most likely pupils to become part of a gang. A school which can provide opportunity for high attainment, achievement and success is the least likely to have problems with gangs either in or out of school.
Exclusion has been linked as a high risk factor for pupils and joining a gang. Many gang members have poor qualifications and have left school early for reasons such as exclusion or being a school refuser. The point at which a child leaves school is now well documented as being the crucial time in whether or not gang involvement commences.
Those schools which have as many provisions in place as possible to prevent exclusion such as referral units or specific parental engagement programmes to involve all the family find they have less likelihood of children having links with gangs.
Those with low aspiration are at a very high risk of gang influence. Those who also feel they have little chance for any success at school or within their own socio-economic environment are also drawn to gang membership. In equal parts, there is low involvement in gangs where pupils have high aspirations in life.
Pupils who truly believe that school is important and have positive pupil-teacher relationships, a feeling of belonging and an opportunity to be involved very rarely become part of a gang. The solution then is a whole-school connectivity culture to be developed as those who at the age of 11 feel they have a weak connection with their school are twice as likely to become part of a gang.
Ensuring a safe and secure teaching environment means that pupils won’t feel fearful when they attend school. They won’t have the worry of intimidation from gang members in their own school and are less likely to be persistently truant.
Whilst it’s impossible to imagine that school-age gangs can now ever disappear from UK society, programmes which involve schools, pupils and parents show promising signs of at least stemming the tide. Established programmes are tackling the problem head on and some are now entering their second generation of work with schools.
For schools, it’s about providing safe environments, transparent discipline systems, a supportive learning environment, effective staff support and most important of all – strong relationships at every level.