Scots teachers pressured to cover up knife incidents

A Johnston Press knife crime investigation revealed ten pupils across Scotland are found with knives on school premises every month. Photograph: PA
A Johnston Press knife crime investigation revealed ten pupils across Scotland are found with knives on school premises every month. Photograph: PA
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The lives of pupils and teachers are being put at risk across Scotland because some head teachers are pressurising staff to keep quiet if they discover a youngster has a knife, a teaching union chief has said.

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, says covering up the true picture means other teachers who have not been made aware of incidents can later be in the front line dealing with the pupil.

Michelle Ballantyne, Scottish Conservative early years spokeswoman, said safety in schools should be paramount.

Michelle Ballantyne, Scottish Conservative early years spokeswoman, said safety in schools should be paramount.

The claim comes in the week a Johnston Press knife crime investigation revealed ten pupils across Scotland are found with knives on school premises every month.

The issue has been highlighted by the death of Bailey Gwynne, 16, who died after being stabbed during a fight with a fellow pupil at Cults Academy in Aberdeen in October 2015. An independent review concluded his death might have been avoided if those who knew the perpetrator had weapons reported it to staff.

Searson said a teacher came forward just before Christmas last year about an incident three months earlier. “We are dealing with over half a dozen cases a year of teachers coming to us and saying ‘we should have been told’. This is only a tiny fraction of what is going on. The true knife crime situation is greatly under-reported,” said Searson who had worked with head teacher Philip Lawrence, who was fatally stabbed outside his school in Maida Vale, London, in 1995.

“Teachers have been told ‘let’s just keep this between us’ and ‘it’s in everybody’s interest we don’t make a big issue of this.’

Bailey Gwynne died after being stabbed at Cults Academy in Aberdeen in October 2015.

Bailey Gwynne died after being stabbed at Cults Academy in Aberdeen in October 2015.

“Head teachers should be holding briefings for all staff following an incident, then doing a risk assessment which should be passed to the local authority.

“There are head teachers who don’t want bad publicity for themselves and their school, a black mark on their record and don’t want low scores on performance indicators. A pupil might bring a knife for protection because they’re being bullied but this underlying issue can’t be tackled if teachers don’t know about it.”

However Maureen McKenna, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said she did not believe teachers should be informed of every incident and context and risk assessment needed to be considered.

“I don’t think all teachers have a right to know. It’s a judgment call for the head teacher.

“I don’t condone covering up. A knife in the school becomes common knowledge very quickly.”

But Michelle Ballantyne, Scottish Conservative early years spokeswoman, said safety should be paramount.

“The SNP claims it’s tackling knife crime and violence in schools, but then we find out advice is being issued to keep incidents of knives in school secret.

“Parents will be horrified reputation is considered more important than pupil and teacher safety.

“This is not the way to address a serious problem and will just undermine confidence that effective steps are being taken to provide a safe environment for our children.”

A spokesman for Police Scotland said: “We will investigate any knife crime which is reported to us. How head teachers communicate with their staff is a matter for head teachers.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Knife possession is a crime, therefore all teachers should report any incidents where pupils are found with a knife at school.

“Our decision to specifically record offences of possession of weapons in schools supports efforts to make Scotland’s schools safer. We continue to work with schools and local authorities on anti-violence campaigns and curriculum programmes on a range of initiatives.

“There has been a 64 per cent reduction in crimes of handling offensive weapons in the last decade and we are determined to continue making progress.”