Policing alone won’t reduce violence at schools

Crime and violence permeates our homes and neighbourhoods. It has even permeated our schools, with available statistics suggesting that one in five learners are subjected to direct forms of violence and others experience violence indirectly.

A normal day at school includes bullying, physical assaults, sexual violence, substance use, learners carrying dangerous weapons and criminal activities.

The notion that schools are supposed to be safe havens where teaching and learning is the primary function is being gradually being eroded as schools appear to be breeding grounds for violence.

More and more cases of violence between learners at primary and high schools appear in the media. The recent case of a 13-year-old Cape Town boy who was allegedly assaulted by a fellow learner again drew attention to the plight of children at schools. The teenager is said to now require facial surgery.

The government has endorsed different policies and procedures to assist in responding to violence, yet it remains a problem in our schools, which affects academic performance and children’s safety.

The question is: What can we do to change the state of affairs with regard to safety at schools?

The Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention has developed and rolled out a national school safety framework, which provides an evidence-based approach to responding to violence at schools.

The framework equips school authorities with ways to manage their schools so that they are safe environments and ensures that the relevant structures, policies and disciplinary procedures are in place. It also directs school management and others towards appropriate corrective and preventative interventions.

The framework recognises that schools are microcosms of the communities in which they are located and for this reason, advocates for a whole-school approach to reducing violence.

The main objectives of the framework are to:

  • Assist schools to understand and identify all security issues and threats with the help of learners and teachers;
  • Guide schools to effectively respond to the identified security issues by formulating and implementing school safety plans and related activities;
  • Identify and establish networks of support with community-based stakeholders, who can assist in the implementation of safety activities;
  • Create reporting systems, which will record and manage incidents of violence promptly and appropriately; and
  • Equip schools to internally monitor their progress towards creating a safer school over time.

The implementation of the framework in primary and high schools has revealed a common opinion that school safety and violence reduction is the responsibility of the police and the department of basic education. It is for this reason that schools tend to emphasise improving the physical security features of school environments and call for the presence of the police and other security personnel.

But this not sufficient because it fails to address the underlying causes of this violence. School safety measures need to extend beyond the mere improvement of physical security measures because school violence results from an amalgamation of a wide array of individual, relational, community and broader societal risk factors.

Violence in schools is not a result of any one factor. Consequently, multiple prevention strategies are required to effectively reduce the levels of violence plaguing South African schools.

  • Institutional training for educators on behavioural issues to equip them to meet the diverse needs of learners;
  • Effective school and classroom management practices as well as parental and broader community involvement;
  • Referral systems to ensure that troubled learners have access to remedial support;
  • Conflict resolution skills training for teachers and learners to reinforce the use of non-violent reactions to violence – and in so doing, establish a culture that does not tolerate violence and enhances learner commitment to schooling;
  • Enforcing appropriate safety policies and disciplinary procedures; and
  • Provision of recreational and after-school activities aimed at fostering personal growth and development and other psycho-social interventions to modify learner behaviour, as well as efforts to continuously monitor and evaluate the levels of safety within the schools.

Effective practices suggest that effective prevention strategies are those that address the risk factors for violence and enhance the protective factors. The framework provides one such evidence-based approach.

Such efforts have been shown to be more effective at reducing school violence than other strategies that focus only on the provision of metal detectors, conducting searches and seizures or police presence at schools.

Gillian Makota and Lara Leoschut are researchers at the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP) and Lezanne Leoschut is its research director. For more information on the schools safety framework visit www.cjcp.org.za

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