‘We have gathered you all together because, this morning, something shocking was discovered.’ This is how pupils at a London school were greeted in a special assembly one Monday – ‘A knife’s been found in school.’ They were then presented with exhibit A; a stained blade of dubious origin.
This was, thankfully, a fiction. This literacy project was created and run by class teachers at Torriano Junior School, one of which is me, Tom Avery. As well as teaching, I write, my debut book Too Much Trouble, published today, explores crimes of survival alongside other themes, themes, which I cannot help but take into the classroom.
From this shady start a shared narrative began in which the pupils took the role of experts addressing the issues explored. Led pre-dominantly by the pupils, this knife, its history, owners and usage, was the centre of the year six pupils’ learning experience.
Why was the issue of knife crime chosen?
The pre-dominant reason was the pupils themselves. In the heart of North London, Torriano Junior School, draws its intake from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities. However, despite their differences, the pupils there are all affected by crime, from hearing about it in the news to witnessing it first-hand.
The streets around the school are not strangers to serious knife crimes and the teachers were very aware that their pupils, who would shortly be leaving to attend local secondary schools, would also lose that innocence. Alongside this, gang mentality and behaviour was beginning to show in groups of pupils. It was felt that the issues had to be addressed.
What do you do with an illegal weapon?
The pupils decided that the right thing to do with the knife was report it to the police. Pupils wrote letters to the police to report the weapon and to share their concern over theirs and their community’s safety. ‘The police’, in the form of the teachers, wrote back to the pupils informing them of the operations which were currently running, the metropolitan police’s website is excellent by the way, and furnishing them with CCTV photos of the two possessors of the knife.
From here the pupils took the project in several directions. Leaflets about knife crime were created, in order to persuade people like our perpetrators to hand in their weapons. The photos were used as the starting point for drama pieces, play-scripts and narratives, which all attempted to piece together the events leading up to the knife being deposited in the school grounds. The real police were invited in to share in the project and give the pupils a richer experience of the issues. Witness statements were created, debates took place, awareness was raised throughout the school.
Was it a success?
If we measured the success of the project in output of work or English progress as defined by the DfE, the answer would be a resounding yes. If our measure was the pupil’s engagement and enjoyment of the project, the yes would be even louder. If, however, we looked at our original aims, to influence, away from gang and knife culture, the young people who took part in the project, the success remains to be seen.
Too Much Trouble won the Diverse Voices competition 2010. It is published today by Frances Lincoln.