A charity that has made headlines in recent weeks for its programme teaching schoolchildren first aid for stab wounds has said some schools can't afford to take up its lessons.
StreetDoctors has told BuzzFeed News that "limited budgets" have prevented schools from taking up its programmes. The charity operates in over 20 locations in the UK and Ireland, helping around 10,000 young people learn vital first aid skills.
"It’s occasionally the case that we’ll speak to a school that will say, ‘We’ve got a real need. We’ve got young people here who we believe are genuinely at risk but we have limited budgets so we cannot afford to bring you guys in for a limited selection of students'," a spokesperson for the charity said.
Schools have come under increasing pressure to act on youth violence amid a sharp rise in stabbings in the UK over recent years, with almost 40,000 knife crime offences recorded in the year ending September 2018. Last year, research published in the British Medical Journal found that teenagers are at highest risk of knife attacks while walking home from school.
"The definition of who is at risk has expanded somewhat," a StreetDoctors spokesperson said.
"We’re often having conversations about larger groups of young people we’d like to teach, but the reality is that there is a funding implication for that, which is not always possible for the schools."
Each session costs the charity over £200, and it asks partners "to contribute where possible towards helping us to recover a portion of that cost," but the cost for schools varies.
The spokesperson said: "We offer lower cost sessions for the most at-risk groups, but can’t afford to do this for all our partners, which can mean that we are sometimes unable to teach sessions with young people who could still benefit significantly."
They went on: "While we are not able to offer all our sessions for free for sustainability reasons, we also endeavour to make sessions accessible wherever possible to partners who may struggle to pay. Our first priority is always to reach young people who will benefit most from our support."
Schools' budgets have seen an 8% fall in real terms since 2010, according to headteachers' campaign group Worth Less? Yet they often face pressure to take an active role in student welfare issues in addition to their core teaching responsibilities.
Last month more than 7,000 headteachers signed a letter sent home to families condemning the cuts and criticising education secretary Damian Hinds for failing to meet with them.
Jules White, headteacher of Tanbridge House School in West Sussex and founder of Worth Less?, told BuzzFeed News that expectations on schools to tackle issues outside of academia, including knife crime, must be considered in the context of "depleted resources and strain on our capacity".
"Our core role is to educate young people and deliver a demanding curriculum effectively. At times, a shortage of money, teachers and support staff, makes this vital work extremely difficult.
"If we are then expected to tackle complex issues such as children’s emotional wellbeing, online safety or even support in areas such as violent crime we must be given the resources to deliver or to help other specialist professionals do the same.
"It is neither helpful, nor realistic, to believe that schools can simply swing into action and solve all of society’s issues on a shoestring budget.”
Robin Bevan, headteacher at Southend High School for Boys, said that vulnerable young people are "increasingly missing out on those crucial interventions" that inform their life choices because of cuts.
"The difficulty we have found when we’re dealing with more vulnerable youngsters is the extent to which support services have either disappeared, or that they used to be paid for by the the local authority and aren’t any more," he said.
"Investment in education saves money later in life."
Schools could soon face even more pressure. This week the Home Office announced an eight-week consultation on whether teachers, medics and police should have a legal obligation to report knife crime "warning signs".
The plans were discussed at a knife crime summit with the prime minister and more than 100 experts in Downing Street on Monday.
They were met with criticism from those concerned that such an approach would require increased resources, and who worry about the implications of teachers being held accountable for failing to stop young people getting involved in violent crime.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was difficult to see how it would be "workable or reasonable".
“What sort of behaviour would they be expected to report and who would they report to? How would they be held accountable, for what, and what would the consequences be? How would the government prevent the likelihood of over-reporting caused by the fear of these consequences?" he asked.
"Aside from the practical considerations, we have to ask whether it is fair to put the onus on teachers for what is essentially a government failure to put enough police on the streets.”
Home secretary Sajid Javid said he is "committed to ending this scourge".
"The public health, multi-agency approach has a proven track record and I’m confident that making it a legal duty will help stop this senseless violence and create long-term change," he said.
A department for education spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that it was aware of schools' financial difficulties.
“While there is more money going into our schools than ever before, we do recognise the budgeting challenges schools face. That’s why we have introduced a wide range of practical support to help schools, head teachers, and their local authorities make the most of every pound of non-staff costs," they said.
“The Secretary of State has made clear that as we approach the next spending review, he will back head teachers to have the resources they need to deliver a world class education.
“To support teachers, we have distributed the Home Office’s free #knifefree anti-knife campaign to all schools in England, and we are working with a range of partners including the police to produce new school security guidance and reinforce messages about a strong anti-weapon culture, which we plan to publish later this year.”
Hazel is a news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Hazel Shearing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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