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Opportunities for primary schools to assist in preventing gang and youth violence are being missed

Press Release   •   Mar 08, 2018 15:30 GMT

Press release: embargo for 00:01, Tuesday 13 March

New research published by the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) shows that primary school teachers often know which children are at risk, but feel powerless to help them.1 Helping schools to support these vulnerable children more effectively is a vital part of wider attempts to address concerns about the prevalence of gang and youth violence.

This new research is based on interviews with school staff from six schools from the south London boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth, as well as local government officials, police and voluntary sector organisations working in the area.

Previous EIF research2 identified risk factors that are strongly predictive of a child’s later involvement in gangs, including aggressive behaviour, early offending and having friends who are frequently in trouble. This work found that these risk factors can be spotted in children as young as seven years old.

Dr Jo Casebourne, Chief Executive of EIF, says:

“There is a clear opportunity to intervene earlier than we do currently on a key issue affecting children, and primary schools have an important role to play. The reality, starkly illustrated in our report, is that these opportunities are being missed. This is not a criticism of primary schools or teachers, who are supporting children to the best of their ability, in spite of the challenges they face. But it does mean that it is imperative that schools are given the information and tools they need to tackle the risks associated with gang and youth violence in an evidence-led way.”

Previous EIF research has shown that some of the best-evidenced approaches to preventing gang involvement and youth violence are schools-based programmes that aim to teach children a set of social and emotional skills – such as the ability to manage their emotions, to form positive relationships, and to set and pursue personal goals.

Schools need to be supported by national government to prioritise children’s wellbeing and social and emotional skills development as much as their academic attainment. This goes beyond the question of whether PSHE should be made compulsory in all schools. Schools need to be encouraged and enabled to create a ‘whole school’ environment that nurtures children and prioritises their wellbeing, and Ofsted inspections should include specific consideration of how effectively schools are supporting children’s social and emotional skills.

Stephanie Waddell, co-author of the report and EIF lead for high-risk children and young people, says:

“Primary schools have an essential role to play in countering the risk of gang and youth violence. They know their children, families and local areas well. School staff have genuine care and concern for the children they see every day, and they are very well placed to spot the signs that a child or a family needs additional support. Nonetheless, it is clear that schools are facing a number of significant challenges, from teachers’ workloads, to uncertainty about how best to access external support and services, to a national curriculum which limits time and space in the school day for developing valuable social and emotional skills.”

EIF’s report also calls for:

  • Accessible messages for schools about the evidence base: what works to support children who are at risk of gang and youth violence, and in what circumstances.
  • Clear routes to help for children and families who do not meet statutory thresholds for social care intervention or specialist mental health support.
  • Further research to understand and test how the police can work most effectively with schools to prevent gang and youth violence.



Mark Ballinger
Head of Communications, EIF
T: 020 3542 2481 (switchboard)


  1. The report is available at: (from 00:01 Tuesday 13 March). Copies are available in advance, on request.


  • The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) is an independent charity that champions and supports the use of effective early intervention to improve the lives of children, young people and their families, reduce hardship and improve value for money in the long run. As a member of the What Works network, EIF is dedicated to expanding and communicating the evidence-base related to early intervention in the UK. For more information, see: