Playground panic over armed pupils
POLICE are being called in at Lothian schools to deal with growing numbers of children carrying knives, air guns and other weapons.
One child every fortnight is now being reported to the Children's Panel during term time for bringing a weapon to school - most commonly knives.
The extent of the problem has been uncovered by the Evening News after an eight-year-old-boy threatened a fellow pupil with a knife in a schoolyard scuffle in Penicuik last month.
Scotland's biggest teaching union today called for police to stop and search pupils at schools experiencing repeated problems.
The city's education leader said that, though worrying, the problem only involved a tiny percentage of pupils.
Police today appealed to parents to take steps to ensure their children were not carrying knives or other weapons.
Knives account for almost half the 59 incidents which have led to police officers being called to Lothian schools to deal with weapons in the last four years.
Over that time, the number has risen steadily, from 11, in 2002/3, to a high of 19 during the academic year just ended.
The number of such incidents is not normally logged by local education authorities, but the Evening News has obtained details from Lothian and Borders Police using the Freedom of Information Act. Knives were taken from children on 26 occasions over the four years, although no-one was hurt.
Air and pellet guns have caused the most harm, with four children being shot with pellet or ball-bearing guns - with two of them being hit in the eye.
A machete, Stanley knife blade, hammer, chain and a sock with three golf balls inside were also taken from children who were using them as weapons.
One youngster was beaten with a knuckle duster and another with a golf club.
The Scottish Executive said its consultation with teachers suggested they did not want to follow plans in England to give them powers to search pupils or introduce airport-style security gates at the school doors. But the country's largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, said that more action was needed to stem the growing tide of violence and weapon-carrying in schools.
It said police should search pupils at schools with a history of violence.
Colin Mackay, the EIS's Edinburgh branch secretary, said children seemed to be finding it increasingly easy to get their hands on weapons outside school, which they then brought into the classroom and schoolyard.
He said: "There's no question there are more violent incidents in schools now - all of a sudden it's happening all over the place.
"I speak to teachers all the time who say it is much worse than it was.
"There are more incidents of kids carrying weapons. It seems kids have more opportunities to acquire weapons these days."
Mr Mackay said he wanted to see further discussions about the role police could play in making schools safer.
"It's important that [search] powers are used in the right way. I am not sure teachers would want them for themselves, but there should be some mechanism which would allow for pupils to be searched," he said.
"It would be good if police could carry out spot-checks if there were concerns at a school. Teachers wish to have security improved without jeopardising their own relationship with pupils."
The Scottish Executive said it was wary of turning schools into fortresses after stepping up security in the wake of the Dunblane shootings. A spokeswoman said: "We've asked teachers if they want additional powers and they don't, so there are no plans to go down that road.
"If a teacher suspects a child is carrying a weapon they should immediately report it to the headteacher, who should then ask the pupil to empty his or her pockets and bag. If the child refuses they should call the police. School security was stepped up after Dunblane - we don't want to turn schools into fortresses.
"Incidents of weapons being brought into schools, while shocking, are still fortunately rare."
Councillor Ewan Aitken, the city's education leader, added: "We constantly need to reiterate to young people the dangers of carrying a knife. If they carry weapons they are more likely to become involved in a violent incident than if they don't.
"They are putting themselves in more danger."
However, Cllr Aitken stressed pupils were still highly unlikely to encounter weapons in school.
He said: "There have been 26 incidents [in Edinburgh alone] in the last four years - just over six a year, in a city where 53,000 pupils go to school every day."
He said one area of concern was older children entering the grounds of primary schools and threatening pupils with weapons.
In the last two years, four of the five incidents which took place in city primary schools involved older children coming on to the premises armed. Each time the teachers called the police after younger pupils raised the alarm.
Cllr Aitken said: "It's very concerning if older children are going into primaries, but the pupils there should be congratulated for reporting them."
Judith Gillespie, development manager of the Scottish Parent Teachers Council, said it was important to remember the problem affected only a small number of pupils. She said: "You always get a small minority of kids who have violent tendencies.
"But I don't think we should be getting too worked up about it when you put it into context with the number of kids in the area."
The growing problems with weapons in schools has emerged as police completed a knife amnesty in the wider community.
More than 1800 knives and swords were surrendered to Lothian and Borders Police - an average of 52 weapons a day during the five-week appeal.
A police spokeswoman said: "It is down to parents to educate their children not to carry weapons, because if they do they put their own lives and someone else's in danger.
"If children are found in possession of knives, either inside school or out, they will be dealt with and will go before the courts or the Children's Panel."
Incidents of pupils caught with weapons reported to police in the Lothians during the academic year 2005/6:
• Nine children, aged between eight and 16, were caught with knives.
• A 15-year-old pupil shot another pupil in the eye with a pellet from a ball-bearing gun.
• Police were called in to deal with three other children found with guns - a 14-year-old with an air rifle and two 15-year-olds caught with pellet and ball-bearing guns.
• A 15-year-old attacked another pupil with a knuckle duster, leaving the victim with two puncture wounds, soreness and bruising to the cheek.
• A metal pole, screwdriver, chain and a sock with three golf balls inside it were also taken from pupils because they were regarded as weapons.
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