Charlie Taylor’s recently published interim review of the UK’s youth justice system suggests that half of 15 to 17 year olds entering young offending institutions have the literacy or numeracy levels of a 7 to11 year-old.
The report also highlighted that 40% of these young people have not been to school since they were 14 and nearly nine out of 10 have been excluded from school at some point in their lives.
Interestingly, academic underperformance and frequent truancy also featured as risk factors to gang and youth violence, according to a piece of research carried out by the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF).
These findings underline the importance of the school years and how experiences during this time can have a profound effect on the likelihood of a child turning to a life of crime when they are older. But I have heard of the truly innovative work that is already being done in some authorities to identify who is at risk, what help is needed and where it will have the greatest impact. This work is ensuring steps can be taken sooner to divert children away from the downward spiral of criminality.
The need for greater insight
In one authority I know, the youth offending team is actively working with schools in the area, using attendance and achievement data, to spot children as young as six who might be vulnerable to involvement in gang activity and other crime later in life. Support is then put in place to keep them engaged as they move through each stage of their education.
Another council is making better use of information on children and families to uncover the local issues that lead to youth crime, such as debt, deprivation or substance misuse. This means teams can pin-point more accurately which early intervention schemes will help to reduce these issues in the future.
Charlie Taylor has placed education at the heart of the drive to cut youth crime. But as the EIF report also underlined, information held by schools and other agencies in contact with children and families could hold vital clues to children’s behaviour, attendance and engagement with specialist services. And this detail could provide the critical insight needed to nip problems in the bud much sooner.