You are here:

Last reviewed on 21 March 2019
Ref: 34826
School types: All · School phases: All

Read our summary of Ofsted’s research into safeguarding children from knife crime, and what schools can do about it.


Knife crime is an increasing risk to children, both at school and in their communities. In the 12 months up to September 2018, compared with the 12 months up to September 2014, knife crime had increased by:

  • 68.4% across England and Wales (excluding the Greater Manchester Police area)
  • 55.5% across the Metropolitan Police Service area of London

The number of sharp instruments found on school property has also increased. 363 were found in 2017–18, compared to 269 in 2013–14. This is shown in data from 21 police forces in England and Wales.

The Home Office launched a consultation on 1 April 2019 on whether to introduce a new legal duty on schools (among other organisations) to help tackle serious violence such as knife crime.

Ofsted carried out research to:

  • Find out how schools are dealing with knife crime
  • Recommend ways that school leaders, local government and central government can work together to tackle knife crime

What are schools doing at the moment?

To keep children safe on the school premises and in the community?

Ofsted asked about this in a survey.

  • To detect knives, schools have anonymous reporting procedures (58%), knife detection wands (55%), and stop and search (51%)
  • 90% said their school has facilitated work with children about knife crime
  • Schools teach about knife crime through specialist workshops (76%), as part of a subject syllabus (56%), and as part of in-school enrichment activities (52%)
  • Support schools offer for children affected by knife crime includes counselling (90%), family support (54%), and facilitating mediation of conflicts (49%)

103 people responded to the survey, although not everyone answered every question. See the graphs in appendix 2 of the report. 

To sanction children who bring knives to school? 

Approaches vary hugely between schools. Some are strongly against criminalising children and calling the police, others are firm that it's an offence and should be treated like one. Sanctions can be broadly split into 2 themes: 

  • The school considers the circumstances of the child, and why they carried the knife. It exhausts all possible options before deciding to exclude them
  • The school has a zero-tolerance approach. It immediately prioritises the safety of the other children, and permanently excludes the child or arranges a 'managed move' to another setting

The recommendations

Overall, the key theme is that schools and local agencies should work together more closely to meet their specific local needs. Here's some more detail. 

Improve partnership working and strategic planning

  • Schools should be involved in local partnerships that develop and implement strategies to tackle knife crime and youth violence. Local planning and co-ordination is crucial, but is currently inconsistent and leaves some schools feeling isolated

Think about how you're using exclusions and managed moves 

  • All schools should make sure their exclusion policy reflects the statutory guidance. As per this guidance, headteachers should consider early intervention and support, rather than immediately excluding a child for carrying a knife. Children who have been excluded appear to be more at risk of committing criminal offences
  • The Department for Education should collect data on managed moves, as well as exclusions. Currently, managed moves (where a child is temporarily transferred to another school) are being used to deal with children who carry knives, but there isn't a clear picture of whether these are effective or if they successfully safeguard the children involved 

Prioritise early help and prevention

  • School leaders should help local safeguarding partners assess the needs of children in the area, and help deliver early help services to meet those needs. (Schools are already required to actively take part in local safeguarding arrangements under the statutory safeguarding guidance 'Keeping Children Safe in Education')
  • Schools and other local agencies should challenge each other where they aren't contributing enough to the local strategies. Currently, some schools/agencies are more engaged than others, making it hard to pool resources effectively and provide crucial preventative services

Improve information sharing

  • Schools should share full information with one another when children move between schools. This includes when children move to other schools, leave for further education, or when they've been excluded. Incomplete records can mean school leaders aren't working with the full picture of a child's needs or history, which is a safeguarding issue
  • Schools should also routinely share information with the police. The police should establish a clear protocol for this with schools

Teach about knife crime through the curriculum

  • School leaders should make sure the personal, social health and economic education (PSHE) provision reflects local safeguarding issues like knife crime. Teaching could be targeted to at-risk children. Some schools avoid this as they don't want to look like a 'problem school' to parents - but that isn't an acceptable trade-off 
  • School leaders and safeguarding partners should also raise awareness of related issues like grooming and criminal exploitation 
  • Schools could consider using external organisations to provide anti-knife crime and gang affiliation sessions. External organisations, e.g. those involving ex-gang members, may have more relevant expertise and credibility among pupils. However, local organisations should  help schools find and use external providers, as the quality can vary

What can governors do?

Bear in mind that Ofsted says that the report "is not a definitive list of answers" to tackle knife crime, but "contributes to an ongoing conversation" to help schools "discuss and plan better ways of working together to protect young people". 

If you're a governor in a school where knife crime is an issue

We'd suggest that you:

  • Share this article with your board
  • Discuss your school's approach with your headteacher. Make sure you know what strategies your school is currently using - are you aware of what they are? Are they having an impact? How do you know? Is there anything you could try from the Ofsted report? 
  • Monitor the school's efforts to keep children safe from knife crime, as you would for any other safeguarding risk

This could be a whole board effort, or the safeguarding link governor could take on responsibility and report back to everyone.

If knife crime isn't a concern for your school

  • You don't necessarily need to leap into action right away, but nor should you be complacent and think 'it could never happen here'
  • Share this article with your board for to raise awareness 
  • Be aware of youth violence as a safeguarding issue and make sure your school has procedures to respond if there's an incident 


This article is based on the Ofsted research report Safeguarding children and young people in education from knife crime.

The methodology

To write the report, Ofsted:

  • Formed an expert panel to advise on how to carry out the report
  • Sent a survey out to around 600 schools, of which, 107 schools responded
  • Carried out interviews with school leaders who had put themselves forward (meaning it’s not a representative study)
  • Carried out focus groups with parents and children

The school settings involved were:

  • A mix of schools, colleges and pupil referral units (PRUs)
  • All in London
  • Secondary phase (i.e. they teach children aged over 11) 

More from The Key

The Key has taken great care in publishing this article. However, some of the article's content and information may come from or link to third party sources whose quality, relevance, accuracy, completeness, currency and reliability we do not guarantee. Accordingly, we will not be held liable for any use of or reliance placed on this article's content or the links or downloads it provides. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.