Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Keeping Gang Culture out of the Classroom

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Keeping Gang Culture out of the Classroom

Article excerpt

Social media has made it more likely that young people will get involved in gangs, according to a new report. But while teachers can't solve the gang problem, they can take steps to stop it entering through the school gates

On a dark London street, a group of young men wave knives into the lens of a video camera. Their faces are covered. It's an intimidating scene. One of the boys sets fire to a bandana and the others gather round to watch it burn.

This is the start of a music video designed as a warning from one gang to another. Everything has been chosen to appear as threatening as possible, from the variety of weapons on display to the tight frame of the camera shot. But this video, freely available on YouTube, also serves another purpose: to recruit new young gang members, often teenagers who are still in school.

While gang culture is not a new problem, the rise of social media has made it an issue that is far more difficult for schools to tackle. With easy access to smartphones throughout the day, pupils are always plugged into a world beyond the classroom. This not only distracts from their learning, but also makes them more vulnerable to the lure of gangs.

A new report from Catch22, an organisation that works with troubled and vulnerable people, including gang-involved teenagers, highlights the problems that youth gang culture poses for a growing number of schools in the UK.

Yet the report also suggests that there is "nothing inevitable about gang culture permeating through a school's gates" and sets out a series of recommendations in order to help teachers tackle the problem.

"In recent years, the government has published studies into gangs in mainstream schools, but we were still regularly being approached by teachers who didn't know what to do and were asking for support and strategies," says Dr Keir Irwin-Rogers, the author of the report. "Teachers can't solve the problem of gangs in the community, but what they can do is take steps to keep the culture out of their classrooms."

The report presents the findings of research conducted in five alternative provision (AP) schools across three UK cities. The aim was to understand the extent to which pupil gang involvement raises challenges for schools, what these challenges are and how schools should respond to them.

"Gang culture is not just an AP problem, but in these schools you have the luxury to design and implement interventions more easily than you do in mainstream," says Beth Murray, assistant director of external affairs for Catch22. "By testing strategies in AP, we can get a better idea of what will work to tackle the problem more widely."

The report provides a great deal of information about gangs and also offers strategies schools can use. Here is an overview.

Why do teenagers join gangs?

To address the problem, it is important to first appreciate why young people feel compelled to become involved with gangs. According to the report, underlying economic, social and cultural factors have a role to play. And Irwin-Rogers says it is not only the major inner cities where students are at risk - social media has meant that students beyond urban centres can be exposed to the culture, too.

The researchers found that many young people, particularly those who've been excluded from mainstream education, are despondent about future job opportunities and view drug dealing as the best way to make a significant amount of money in a short space of time. They discovered that when the school day ends, many of these pupils will return to "deprived and volatile communities in which status and respect depend on the acquisition of money, material goods and physical violence".

This is where the music videos come in. It is not just about drug dealing anymore - larger gangs are now increasingly making their money through music as well as criminal enterprise. …

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