Why were Lewisham schoolchildren able to go on a lunch time rampage?

Students from challenging pupil referral unit were involved in incident in the middle of the school day. There are serious questions to be answered.

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Leegate Centre and the closed shutters of the Centre Cafe

Four police officers have ended up in hospital after separate incidents involving schoolchildren in London in little more than two months – both times in the borough of Lewisham.

In New Cross on November 9, dozens of schoolchildren swarmed around officers at around 4pm as they attempted to arrest a student, reportedly after a prearranged fight. One male officer was taken to hospital with severe bruising and his female colleague was also punched.

Then last Friday (January 13), there were violent scenes involving around 50 teenagers around the Leegate shopping Centre, the Standard reported last week. According to the Met Police, “officers in Lewisham on Safer Schools patrols came across youths fighting at around 12.25”.

Three officers were hospitalised: a female PC with a broken wrist, a male PC with a dislocated shoulder and another male PC with a cut to his arm. Officers discovered a middle-aged woman had been assaulted, who was also taken to hospital with a facial injury.

In contrast to the New Cross incident, this violence took place in the middle of the day, around Leegate’s Centre Cafe, the News Shopper reported. The Met Police confirmed that three boys, aged 16 , 15  and 14 , and a 14-year-old girl, were arrested on suspicion of affray and criminal damage. A second girl, whose age was not released, was also arrested on suspicion of affray, criminal damage and grievous bodily harm.

Leegate Centre and the closed shutters of the Centre Cafe
The Leegate Centre and the closed shutters of the Centre Cafe

One detail omitted from the reports was which school(s) the teenagers attended. I made a few inquiries among the few remaining pubs and shops in the Leegate precinct and quickly established that students from Abbey Manor College were involved in the trouble. Nobody named any other institution.

The college is a pupil referral unit, known as a PRU, with two campuses in the borough. Its main campus is located around 100 metres from the Leegate shopping centre. In Lewisham Council euphemism, it is for secondary school pupils who “do not conform to conventional education” – i.e. many of them have been excluded from other schools in the area.

In other words, among the 124 pupils on the school roll are the most disruptive and troubled kids in one of London’s most difficult boroughs for secondary education.

It is clearly a very challenging gig for teachers and staff at a school that has a constant police presence – and nobody for a moment would want to make their job more difficult. There are signs that they are doing fine work. The latest Ofsted report, published last June, ranks the school as “good”, saying “pupils are achieving better results than in the past,” and commending students’ improved attendance.

The college’s executive head teacher, Dr Liz Jones, was also shortlisted for a “Times Education Supplement “best head teacher” award in 2015.

But this is clearly a particularly troubling episode. The same Ofsted report also says: “Safeguarding arrangements are fit for purpose and records are detailed and of a high quality.” That may apply to students but does it apply to the general public? While no one can expect a school to monitor pupils’ behaviour outside of teaching hours, how could its students be in a position to behave this way in the middle of the day?

abbey-manor-college
The entrance to Abbey Manor College

I spoke to a member of the Abbey Manor College senior leadership team earlier in the week (I won’t name them as I was simply calling as a concerned local resident). They were apologetic, saying that incidents such as this are extremely rare, and that safeguards had been reinforced.

Serious questions remain, however and I followed up by sending the queries below to the school on Tuesday.

Why were students outside school boundaries in school time? Is that against school policy? If so, how did it happen? If not, were they accompanied, and will that policy change? Is the school/ Lewisham Metropolitan Police Service making any changes as a result of what happened?

I have not received a response (I will update this if I do, although that seems unlikely now). So it’s hard to gauge what, if anything, has been learned (Met Police say “inquiries into the circumstances are ongoing”). Both the police and local residents will clearly hope some lessons do come out of this – and that no more clashes involving school children and officers afflict the borough any time soon.

Updates, Friday January 20:

  1. I received an email from a Safer Neighbourhood sergeant for Lee Green, saying: “We have two dedicated schools officers ( police officers ) on site in the school every day…Since the incident, we have directed patrols to the area in order to address any residual tension in the area. There was a meeting yesterday [Weds Jan 18] with a representative from the school and ourselves whereby different strategies were discussed with a view to implementation in the near future. I am hopeful that we will see some improvement in the relationship between ourselves, the business owners/workers, the residents and the students over the next few months.”
  2. The college has just advertised for a new headteacher. Interesting timing.

Author: lewishamlately

I'm Jolyon and I set up Lewisham Lately after fretting about the lack of news coverage for the borough. I have written for Lonely Planet, worked on the travel desk at the Daily Telegraph and am also an avid runner. Currently an SE13 dweller – mostly Hither Green – for around eight years.

2 thoughts on “Why were Lewisham schoolchildren able to go on a lunch time rampage?”

  1. Schools need to have a more intelligence led approach to the problem-Gathering information and acting upon it. And, this is not a rare occurrence, it’s actually very common across the country where kids from opposing schools have organized mass brawls on certain days. Nowadays, social media and phones make it much easier to organize and create havoc. Social media had played a huge role in previous cases, where school deaths were involved in the past five years. What will happen eventually, is that local businesses will refuse access to school children at any time and the schools will foot the bill for the clean up afterwards.

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