02 May 2014, The Tablet

Tightening school security would fail to deal with root causes of adolescent violence

by Paul Doherty

The horrific and tragic death of Ann Maguire while she was teaching at Corpus Christi Catholic College Leeds on Monday 28 April stunned the nation, shocked the Catholic community and deeply agitated all those involved in the education and care of young people. Ann Maguire was lovely in all aspects, a brilliant teacher, deeply loved and respected by family, friends and of course the children she served. She loved the school she worked in, which has a very good reputation; her death is truly incomprehensible.

The eighteenth-century French writer Bernardin de St Pierre wrote: “Violence everywhere leads to deception.” In the rush to find a solution or a remedy we must be careful to avoid knee-jerk reactions. True, knife arches (walk-through metal detectors) and searches can do some good but, in the final analysis, weapons don't kill human beings – other people do. Violence can erupt in the most harmonious community, whilst any room holds objects which could be used as a deadly weapon. True, access to guns and knives and the carrying of such weapons has to be strictly controlled and monitored, yet there’s more to it than this.

In the main we live in a very peaceful, harmonious and fairly free society. Most of our schools reflect such calm and orderliness. We head-teachers are responsible for a culture of education and the care of young people. We are not army commanders in charge of an outpost in enemy territory or an institution where violence is part of the fabric.

Nevertheless I am also aware of a chilling paradox in our society. Why is it that dreadful acts of violence actually occur in the most peaceful communities, be it a primary school in the United States, a downtown cinema or a youth convention in Norway? These are simply three examples of such outrages, but they are growing increasingly common.

What can be done to counter them? A sudden outrage inflicting injury and death on the most vulnerable and innocent is deeply disturbing, but so is the creation of that creeping miasma of fear in communities specifically devoted to enhancing the life opportunities of its members.

This in turn begs other questions. Does the very harmony, peace and control under which we live actually intensify the violence and homicidal tendencies of certain individuals who search for a public forum where they can wreak the most hideous violence with the greatest impunity? Does our peaceful society and the restraints it imposes on specific individuals lead to this?

The latter may find some expression of their own inner turbulence in the violence portrayed in films, video games and so on but that does not fully satisfy their dark fantasies, which may erupt into real life. The influence of the media in all its forms and the effect of drugs are major factors for consideration.

However, as regards prevention, early profiling and identification would be more helpful. The physical and learning assessment of young people is carried out, in varying degrees, in most western countries. Perhaps such assessment should go hand in hand with that of emotional intelligence?

Violence by very definition is abrupt and brutal, but we must search for its true cause and not just satisfy ourselves with attempts at further control and the imposition of airport-type security in our schools, churches, cinemas or shopping centres.

Paul Doherty is Headteacher of Trinity Catholic High School, Woodford Green

What do you think?


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User comments (2)

Comment by: Alan Whelan
Posted: 02/05/2014 22:08:32

Paul, I share the sentiments of your first paragraph and the obvious Christian spirit of Ann Maguire and the headteacher and staff of Corpus Christi College. My heart goes out to Ann's family and to the Corpus Christi community.

In my several visits to your school, along with my headteacher colleagues, I was always greatly impressed by the good order and great sense of learning that pervaded the community.

I share and respect your analysis of a society where many young people spent far too much time on computer games and where drug-taking and violence in the media are very common. Like you I would welcome meaningful research into these areas.

Denis, I understand your sentiments but I am not sure that your comment pertains to the roots of this latest unfortunate episode. For instance, I know from personal experience that good headteachers always ensure that known challenging students are properly resourced and supported in terms of teaching and ancillary staff. In my time as headteacher all students with behavioural issues were properly identified and known to all staff, who also benefited by these additional resources allocated to individual students.

In my Brentwood diocesan school we also benefited by the presence of qualified social workers from Brentwood Catholic Children's Society, who did great work both within school and in home visits. Our chaplaincy team provided much appreciated additional support as did Brentwood. Diocesan Youth Service.

Comment by: Denis
Posted: 02/05/2014 18:14:00

It would be good if schools were more willing to act upon their civil law duty to protect their staff. To that end it would help if in their drive to expand social inclusion they share openly and honestly the often disturbing truth about the "challenging" students they place in classrooms.

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