The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, recently announced a new scheme to support young people from across the capital to turn their back on gangs. The scheme looks to support young people with underlying issues such as mental health, substance misuse and housing. This is a welcome step in helping children and young people tackle the barriers that prevent them from engaging in education.
School-Home Support (SHS) practitioners often work with pupils who are either involved in gangs themselves, or are affected by their siblings or parents involvement, often resulting in reduced attendance or behavioural issues in school.
In order to help children and young people turn their back on gangs, we need to first understand what attracts them to get involved in the first place.
Children often get involved in gangs because they don’t feel part of their own family, they may not spend much time with their parents or have challenging relationships at home; or they might be looking for a father figure when their dad has left.
Initially they see the gang as cool and look up to the older members, seeing other gang members as their family. However this relationship quickly deteriorates and people are intimidated into staying by others.
In order to help children, young people and their families overcome this, we support them to change the dynamics at home. This might involve encouraging parents to attend parenting courses, or our practitioners supporting the family to make changes at home. This can involve spending time with the child in school to find out what the pull of the gang is for them, how they feel at home and what their interests are. If they like sports or music we look to arrange to take them and their parent/s to a club to take part in a session.
We then work with the parents, encouraging and empowering them to do this independently, to help build a stronger relationship with their children. Our practitioners also work closely with other services in the community so that children and parents get any other specialist support they need.
This is one of the ways we work with schools to support the wellbeing of pupils - one of five impact goals developed by the Fair Education Alliance.
There are many children who may not be involved in gangs but still face similar barriers to engaging effectively with their education. Parental mental health, substance misuse, domestic violence, homelessness and poverty are some of the common issues we come across in our work. To improve engagement at school families need support to overcome these barriers, supporting the wellbeing of pupils in school and at home.
As the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s state of the nation report highlighted, the majority of pupil’s development takes place at home. And as social care thresholds increase, more responsibility in being placed on schools to provide this type of support to their pupils.
A whole school approach to wellbeing is really important to ensure that there is a joined-up approach across the school. But we need to recognise that it takes specialist skills to be able to carry out these types of interventions effectively. Whilst policy discussions often focus on the role of teachers, the important role of pastoral, special education and other support staff can be lost. Teachers obviously have an important part to play in supporting the wellbeing of their pupils, and need the skills to do so, but it is unrealistic to expect teachers to take on extra responsibilities at a time when they are already facing severe workload pressures.
As we called for in our manifesto last year, schools need well trained and properly supported staff with the specific skills to engage pupils and families facing barriers to education. To address the entrenched gap in attainment, we need school to combine high quality teaching with a high quality approach to wellbeing.