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“Over-policed and under-protected”- School children and policing: some criminological discussions
During the first week of Semester 2, the Criminology team put on a number of small sessions designed around topic areas to encourage some ‘radical’ discussion. Topic areas were designed to deliberately encourage debate and critical consideration. Due to the increasing use of police in schools, and relatively recent (within the past few years) issues around police stop and search in schools, disproportionately being used in schools with a majority Black and Brown cohort, often framed as ‘urban’ schools: it is an area of great interest for both Stephanie and myself. We were expecting some lively discussions around whether the Police should be in schools, and if so, in what capacity: and whilst the students did not disappoint in relation to this matter, they also raised some excellent points around the policing of school children and the control the school forces upon them. It is this area of the discussions that I would like to share with you.
Policing as a form of social control, exerted by schools, not necessarily the Police force, is rife within schools: something the students were quick to draw attention to. This was raised in relation to the policing of Black children’s hair. They are told to alter their appearances based on white standards, have been sent home for not conforming to the school dress code, sent to the back of classrooms for having distracting hair: in both primary and secondary school settings. This power over Black children’s hair, stands in contrast to the idea that children have no say over their hair, and are held to white westernised standards, yet can be held criminally responsible and subject to the force of the law as they are recognised as mature enough to understand crime and its consequences.
This baffling, controlling narrative is also evident in the use of school uniforms. Students raised the inappropriateness of some of the school uniforms in relation to the length of skirts, banning trainers, and piercings, which was a method of control which removed all sense of individuality and identity. It was recognised that children are encouraged to ‘grow up’ and ‘mature’ and ‘figure out’ what they want to do, but they had the methods of exploring this, especially in relation to their identity, restricted and policed. The limited autonomy over hair, clothes, piercings and children’s bodies stands in stark contrast to the legal discourse of children being criminally responsible at the age of 10years old in England and Wales. This was baffling to us!
A further way of policing students in school was through the surveillance the schools exerted over children. The use of CCTV, fingerprints as a method of purchasing lunch was originally considered as a form of security: the all seeing eye of big brother, oops sorry the school, and the attempt to reduce bullying by removing the carrying of cash was originally framed as a way of protecting children. However, the students were very critical of whether this surveillance was intended as protection, or rather as control. The idea of being deterred from delinquency through the use of CCTV, and preventing bullying by removing the possibility of money was considered, but again this refers back to the controlling of children’s behaviour.
There isn’t enough space to include all areas of the 2 hour discussion, and the time flew by quickly as the students and staff lost themselves in considering the role police play in schools, and the role schools play in policing children. The session concluded with us considering the school as an institution and whether its primary role was that of education, or of the creation of obedient bodies. I won’t tell you where we settled, but it is worth a ponder…
With thanks to all those who attended and stimulated the critical discussions around over-policed and under-protected: school children and policing: Gloria, Lucy, Kayode, Uche, Christivie, Joseph, Rosemary, Katya, Kayleigh, Chrissy, Diamante, Shola-Renee, Ellie, Sarah, Zoe, Stephanie and Jessica.