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      Protecting Your School From Violence And Crime

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An evaluation of a one year programme : Dr Clive Harber

The Community Alliance for Safe Schools The high levels of violence affecting schools in South Africa have been widely discussed in the media and in academic publications (see IPT 1999a for a review of the literature). Increasingly, IPT had come to realise that its traditional conflict resolution approach within schools was a necessary but not sufficient approach to violence reduction. Indeed, the good work done through conflict management training in a school can easily be neutralised or destroyed where gang violence, weapons and intimidation of staff and learners is commonplace. Moreover, while there is a considerable literature on the nature and causes of such violence, there are very few examples of interventions to reduce the violence. IPT has therefore played a central part in facilitating a task team known as the Community Alliance for Safe Schools (CASS) which came into being at the end of 1997 and which represents major role players within the province including Business Against Crime, the police, the Association of School Governing Bodies, provincial government departments, higher education and a wide range of NGOs.

IPT under the auspices of CASS has produced a practical guide for school governing bodies on creating a safer school. (IPT 1999b). This addresses key factors in enhancing school security :

practical ways of enhancing the security of premises
inclusive school management
working with the police
the existence of a school security committee
the development of a written school security plan
combating crime inside the school
improving relationships with the community
teaching and learning about safety and peace

The Pilot Project

IPT has used this material as part of a pilot project with a cluster of three schools in Durban to investigate whether intervention and training coupled with mutual support between cooperating schools, and between the schools and the police, can reduce incidents of crime and violence. The idea behind the pilot project is that a small scale, simple and inexpensive intervention into a geographical cluster of schools (three in all) might help to improve school security and safety in a relatively short time span. The principle at work is that IPT facilitates workshops around whole school issues raised by the practical guide and that the schools define their own needs and priorities and take action accordingly.

The project has been evaluated using documentation, observation of the workshops and interviews with school staff and students, with members of the school governing bodies and with the police. Data gathering for the evaluation has only just been completed. It is important to bear in mind therefore that what follows is a summary of key aspects of the project and that a fuller, more detailed discussion will appear at a later stage.

The three schools are situated within one to two miles of each other in an urban area of Durban. The three schools are 'ordinary' schools in the South African context. Each school has a problem with crime and violence but violence has not reached the level of seriousness and pervasiveness that it has in some Durban schools. School A has 600, students from a lower/middle income background. About 70% are from a black African, coloured or Indian background and 30% are white. The staff of 24 is predominantly white with some Indian staff. School B has 618 black African students. The staff are predominantly black African again with some Indian staff. School C has 820 students of whom almost all are black African from a lower-middle income background. It has 31 teachers, half of which are white and a quarter each black African and Indian.

An initial one day introductory workshop was held in April 1999 and was attended by 20 members of staff and students from the three schools, including the three principals, teachers, members of the governing bodies and members of the representative council of learners. Each school was asked to fill in a 50 point diagnostic questionnaire at the workshop on existing school security covering such topics as location of the school, management, security of premises, community involvement, rules and procedures and training. There were four possible security scores :-

Less than 50     - your school has many serious security problems to address

Between 52-70      - your school has a security plan that helps but needs much improvement

Between 72-80      - your school has many elements of a sound security plan but there remain difficult areas of security to be addressed

Between 82-100      - your school security plan is well advanced

All three schools scored in the 52-70 range - your school has a security plan that helps but needs much improvement. Participants were then provided with documentary advice on setting up school security committees and school security plans and strategies including techniques of recording and monitoring incidents of violence and crime.

A second, two day workshop with the same participants plus three members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) was held in June 1999. The workshop included more on writing a school security plan, on techniques of advocacy and lobbying, on brainstorming, on problem solving skills and managing schools and classrooms democratically. A final workshop for 27 learners from the three schools was held in October 1999 and tackled the role of learners in school safety, negotiation skills, communication skills and group problem solving skills.

Responses to the workshops from all participants were very positive. All felt that the workshops had been beneficial in that the schools had been provided with the time, opportunity and a framework to reflect and review and that they had therefore become more aware of security issues and more focussed on them. They had been provided with practical ideas about ways forward and had been able to share these with the other schools. A number of respondents stressed the value of talking to others as it provoked a range of new ideas and strategies that the individual teacher or one school by itself would not necessarily develop on its own. One teacher at School A, for example, commented that 'you become so wrapped up in your own problems that you keep coming up with the same solutions that often don't work'. It was also strongly felt by respondents that change wouldn't simply happen by itself. The day to day pressure of life in schools, especially in a period of rapid change and restructuring, meant that it was very unlikely that such coherent initiatives would take place autonomously or by 'spontaneous combustion' as one teacher put it.

In this sense a key role played by IPT has been that of catalyst. Simply bringing the schools together to talk with each other, to themselves and to the police has begun a process where the schools now openly acknowledge the security problems that they have and are beginning to find short and longer terms ways of tackling them. Many solutions are there in the minds and experiences of the participants from the schools but IPT have facilitated time and space for the schools to address security issues for themselves and to begin to develop plans of action. They 'started the ball rolling' as one teacher put it.

It is equally clear that the schools have had very little experience of group problem solving methods such as brainstorming and that these skills and practices need to be developed and institutionalised as part of devising and implementing school security plans. The principals, teachers, governors and students were obviously very interested in these approaches but mainly because they were new to them. Schools are often marked by a culture where teachers work as individuals for much of the time and it was evident that the schools had not been using group based or cooperative ways to address security problems.


So what have been the outcomes or results of the project? All three schools have recently (and honestly) filled in the 50 point security questionnaire again, one year after the inception of the project. Two of the three school have improved their scores such that they have gone from the category 'Your school has a security plan that helps but needs much improvement' to 'Your school has many elements of a sound security plan but there remain difficult areas of security to be addressed' and the third school moved up dramatically within the first category but did not quite make it into the next. Figures from one police station dealing with two of the schools suggest that incidents levels of crime and violence reported to them have decreased during 1999/2000. However, such figures need to be interpreted with caution as one school at least felt that incidents of reported crime had increased as learners were more ready to report and inform.

Most important is the change in perceptions. Staff, students and the police are now adamant that the schools are safer places than they were a year ago. This is important as surveys carried out at two of the schools concerned have shown that, while crime and violence have seriously impinged on the lives of the learners, fear of crime is significantly higher than the actual experience of crime. Reducing the fear of crime is therefore an important success of the project. Finally, staff and students report that there has been a reduction in, though not elimination of, the 'culture of silence' where pupils are afraid to talk about crimes and to provide information because they fear violent retaliation. A couple of weeks ago, for example, some boys from one school were robbed at gun point by pupils from one of the other schools but were prepared to go to the other school with the police and identify the culprits using photographs taken as part of the process of admission.

During the interviews and visits to the schools in August last year and over the last two weeks I have been asking for evidence of specific and concrete examples of measures that have been taken to combat crime and violence. The following are examples taken from all three schools, though there are obviously some differences between individual schools in terms of what has and has not been done.

security fences built and repaired
gates/entrances to schools restricted and monitored
school security plans and committees in existence
codes of conduct
surveys of types of crime
correspondence with the police
correspondence between schools
mapping of where crime occurs in the school
screening admissions to exclude pupils with a record of crime and violence
spot checks by SAPS on bags (and the threat thereof)
changing the bus route
developing a life skills curriculum which actively involves learners in tackling issues of crime and violence
increased emphasis on punctuality and the reduction of absenteeism
the use of a counselling room where pupils can talk and be counselled about incidents of crime and violence

There was a general view that serious signals were being sent both to learners and outsiders that crime and violence would not be ignored or tolerated, that each incident would be dealt with and that the police would be involved when necessary. In fact, the police and the schools are unanimous that relationships between them have improved dramatically, despite the structural difficulty of the three schools being split between the jurisdiction of two police stations. The police are now more ready to respond when crimes occur and have been involved in random searches for weapons and drugs at the schools. Staff at the different schools are involved in Community Policing Forums and at one school the police have been involved with open days and coaching the school soccer team. It must be emphasised strongly that this is an important step forward in a context where historically the police were seen agents of the apartheid state and therefore the enemy. Overcoming this legacy and building trust and mutual respect is not an easy or overnight process but learners, staff and police all confirm that the project has facilitated significant progress in this regard.

Relationships between the three schools have also improved dramatically as a result of the project and this has had benefits in terms of reducing crime and violence. One obvious and significant example is that the three schools acting together and in conjunction with the police have managed to get Durban city council to change the bus routes so that busses for the learners now stop right outside the school negating the need for learners to catch busses in the vicinity of the nearby railway station, the scene of regular muggings and incidents of sexual harassment. As a result the majority of learners now say they feel much safer about coming to and from school. Two of the schools had previously tried to get the bus routes changed independently but had failed to do so - only when the council was confronted with the three school acting in conjunction was it willing to act.

An incident affecting Schools A and C brought home the value of the project in a dramatic way in terms of inter-school and school-police relationships. A boy in school C had been threatened by a gang from a township as one their members wanted his girlfriend and had threatened to kill him as he travelled home from school. He therefore stole a 9mm gun and 13 live rounds from his father's cupboard and gave the gun to another student at the school to protect him. Luckily a member of staff had seen the second student behaving strangely and had searched his bag and found the gun. The Deputy Principal then phoned the police and the two other schools to warn them about the gang but as he did so the gang had turned up at School A across the road. However, the students were on the playing field for break and chased the gang away from the school. The police were at School C for three hours interviewing the two boys and finding out about the gang. Seven members of the gang were identified. The Deputy Principal noted that the police were now taking trouble at the school his school a lot more seriously than they used to prior to the greater police involvement facilitated by the project.

Key Issues and Recommendations

1. Crime and violence is not gender neutral It is overwhelming carried out by boys. Attention needs to be given in the life skills curriculum and through the ethos of the school to promoting models of masculine identity not predicated on force and violence.

2. A significant theme of both the CASS security manual for schools and the workshops was the need to create a more inclusive, democratic environment within the school in order to foster a climate of openness and a sense of ownership, commitment and responsibility. However, it was clear that the participants from the schools were not familiar with arguments, evidence and techniques concerning the operation of democratic forms of education both in the classroom and in the wider school and in the wider school. This is not particularly surprising given the recent history of South Africa but it is a problem because there are school policy, management and practice issues that have to be debated, understood and internalised as a key part of democratising a school. Democracy is learned behaviour, it is not genetic, and there is an existing body of theory, knowledge and evidence reflected in a considerable literature that needs to be made readily available in a digestible manner and workshopped with schools if they are to develop democratically.

3. The South African Schools Act decentralised power in education and gave considerable new powers to schools. However, a consistent issue raised by staff in the three schools is the difficulty of expelling a pupil even when he has committed as serious offence such as carrying a gun to school or rape. The procedure is long and complicated and there is no guarantee of success when a decision is finally taken by the provincial ministry. Meanwhile the pupil remains at school. Within certain tightly defined categories of proven serious and violent crime school committees should be given greater powers to expel pupils immediately.

4. For many schools the existing combination of state funding and student fees will not necessarily be enough to provide the resources to combat crime and violence as successfully as desired. There is therefore a need for a change in the management culture of schools. The schools in the project have made it clear that decentralisation has provided a context where principals and school governing bodies can be entrepreneurial in identifying and working with local organisations - universities, NGOs, private companies - in order to provide sufficient resources.

5. Internationally, teachers deal with routine cases of pupil indiscipline - not doing homework, lateness etc. However, teachers in South Africa are now being asked to deal with serious problems of violence - possession of guns, attacks with knives and open scissors and rape - in a situation where they are also required to carry a normal teaching load. If teachers themselves are not to require routine counselling then there must be help. One idea generated by this project is that a cluster of schools could afford to employ a person, perhaps ex-SAPS, who would specialise in and coordinate work concerned with the prevention of crime and violence - monitoring incidents, working with the police, dealing with incidents etc. - to take pressure off already embattled teachers and principals.

6. Training pupils to enhance security in the school has been a valuable part of the project. However, in future it will be important to ensure that such training reaches a larger proportion of pupils perhaps by building in a multiplier effect so that those pupils trained by an outside body are contracted to work with other groups of pupils in the school as a form of peer tutoring.

7. Working with local police stations has been a key aspect of the success of the project. However, in future if possible it would be better to attempt to avoid the risk of overlapping jurisdictions so that a cluster of schools worked with a single police station.


The overall message stemming from the project that cannot be over-emphasised is that there are no grounds for fatalism and an attitude of 'there's nothing we can do'. Schools are not helpless in the face of a total onslaught of crime and violence. They can be helped to find simple, relatively cheap and practical measures to reduce crime and violence in schools and to improve safety and security in the relatively short term.


IPT (1999a) The Experience Review of Interventions and Programmes Dealing with Youth Violence in Urban Schools in South Africa (Durban:IPT).

IPT (1999b) Protecting Your School from Violence and Crime : Guidelines for Principals and School Governing Bodies (Durban:IPT).