The Department of Education today (September 3) announced it was pledging £780,000 to support Sheffield teenagers at risk of falling in with gangs, after declaring the city had been chosen as one of 21 ‘violence hotspots’ in England.
The money is particularly aimed at young people in ‘alternative provision’, meaning they are at risk of not receiving a suitable education because of exclusion, illness or other reasons.
Historically, gangs have recruited teenagers excluded from schools, despite calls from activist groups not to give up on them. Children as young as 13 have been enveloped in violence, with county lines gangs using them as drug runners.
The new £15m fund will be used to fund taskforces to work with young people in alternative provision and offer intensive support from mental health professionals, family workers, and speech and language therapists.
It is hoped that by keeping excluded children engaged in education and on track with their studies it will prevent them from being drawn into gang activity or involved in serious crime.
However, the director of Sheffield anti-knife initiative Always An Alternative says if handled poorly, the programme runs the risk of giving young people who are already disillusioned with education more ‘teacher-like’ figures they won’t want to engage with.
Anthony Olaseinde told the Star: “I think it’s crazy that a lot of people will have assumed this – trying to get kids back into education after being excluded – was being done anyway.
"I’m glad that they’ve noticed that it’s in these provisions where kids are more vulnerable but it’s almost sad it’s taken this long.
"I hope they use the money correctly. You’re throwing £780,000 at it and with professionals come professional money, and this reads like they are going to need a lot of professionals.”
In addition, £30 million will be invested into a programme of SAFE (‘Support, Attend, Fulfil, Exceed’) Taskforces which will be rolled out in 10 of these serious violence hotspot areas from early 2022. This three-year initiative will be led by local schools to protect young people at risk of truant and from being permanently excluded.