Safer Schools Partnership: Understanding the current perception of police involvement in schools and how to make it more positive
Summary of findings
Overall Safer School Partnerships were generally regarded as a positive concept and the initiative was not out-rightly rejected by anyone in the sample. All children and parents at SSP and non SSP schools had not heard of ‘SSPs’. When explained that SSP stood for ‘Safer School Partnerships’ all respondents said this was an unfamiliar term. The majority of people in the sample imagined that SSPs were set up as a reactive measure to stop crime and aggressive behaviour that was already happening. Beyond crime solving, many in this sample struggled to imagine what other roles the police could play in schools, particularly in locations that they perceived as safe. It is recommended therefore that any SSP initiatives and communications are tailored according to the location and school. This will mean that the activities of SSP officers will feel relevant to the needs of the school and local community. Many respondents across the sample felt the term SSP sounded like it was ‘written for teachers’ and called for a snappier, more parent and child friendly phrase. They believed that this may help SSPs to feel more relevant to them, especially if they went to a safe school, and would make it easier to remember. If a name change is not possible, a strapline may be helpful. They wanted it to clearly sum up the objectives of SSPs without over promising on its potential outcomes. The message testing section will help give the type of language and terms that can be used to create a meaningful strapline. Parents Parents spoke positively about SSPs and felt that the strength lies in the partnership between themselves, police and teachers. They had a keen interest to feel included in initiatives supporting their child/ren’s safety. Young people • Young people across the sample welcomed the idea of SSPs and recognised that if it was executed effectively it could be of real benefit. Young people were very clear about how they wanted SSPs to be implemented, particularly regarding the type of person the SSP officer would be and their place in the school environment:- - The SSP officer would be friendly, positive towards young people, and approachable. - He/she would maintain a unique position in schools, for example they would not be focussed on enforcing school rules. Young people felt that it was important that there are clear boundaries between the roles of different adults in their school, in order to maintain lines of authority and respect. • Young people were quite keen that the SSP officer avoided wearing official police uniform. They felt the uniform could be a communication barrier. • They also wanted them to wear something the school badge and thus reflect affiliation with the young people. This would give them a message that SSP officers were on the ‘same side’ as them. • Young people were insistent that the officer should want to be at the school and show that they like being around and respect young people. • They liked the idea of the SSP officer helping in their personal development and building positive relationships; such as teaching them alternative ways of dealing with difficult situations. Communications themes A range of communications messages were tested which fell broadly under four communications themes: ‘Safety’, ‘Authority’, ‘Helping Hands’ and ‘Bringing Police into the Community’. The themes with the most impact were ‘Safety’ and ‘Authority’ Emotions were triggered when respondents discussed SSPs. These emotions are important as they help understand why the different communications themes resonated as they did. The emotions were: relief, sadness and concern, confusion, and scepticism. In order to create a positive perception of police in schools, communication will need to address these emotions in direct ways. Relief: All mothers in the sample, some fathers and those children and young people who lived in inner city areas expressed relief that something was being done to make schools become safer places. There was the perception that teachers lacked any power or authority over pupils and believed that ‘something had to be done’. They imagined the role of SSP officers was to weed out unruly pupils so children could learn in a safe and comfortable environment. The safety aspect of SSPs is a key emotional hook for parents and young people but it needs to be expressed in an inclusive and proactive way to give the initiative credibility i.e. not just introduced as a scheme that has been implemented for bad pupils or failing schools. All parents in this sample felt sadness and concern that ‘it had come to this’ i.e. that police were necessary in schools. They recalled their school days when there was a clear power difference between teachers and pupils and the police had no presence in schools. Many parents felt young people today ‘abused their rights’ thus disempowering teachers and diluting their authority. Parents and young people believed that SSPs could help to bring authority and respect back into the school environment. If possible, when communicating with parents and young people about SSPs, these emotions (sadness and concern) need to be reflected by highlighting how the initiative is positive and proactive in asserting authority and moral boundaries within the school environment. This theme ties in with messages around safety. Confusion was another emotion expressed. This occurred when some respondents were unable to find direct relevance for having SSPs in their schools /locations. It is therefore suggested that to alleviate any confusion it is important to make all information about SSPs relevant to the particular school and location as well as explaining what SSPs officers are doing in the school, how and why. Scepticism was also expressed by some parents who wondered how the SSPs would work in practice. Fathers in particular were more rational in their reaction to SSPs overall and struggled to imagine how the scheme would be realised in practice. They tended to focus on logistics and cost. In order to address their scepticism and help manage expectations, parents will need the parameters and outcomes of SSPs explained to them. Furthermore clear ‘effectiveness indicators’ should be developed and communicated with parents; they need to include explaining how the scheme is value for money. All indicators need to be relevant to individual SSP schools otherwise they risk losing meaning in becoming too general. Summary of conclusions for communicating SSPs to parents Any communication needs to be expressed in neutral terms and simple language. e.g. Police in schools is a way of managing behaviour and helping teachers to teach instead of making them police the school environment themselves” • It is important to avoid over emphasising the potential of SSPs as this can easily make parents disconnect from the overall message. E.g. Instead of writing “You can be confident about your child’s safety in an SSP school” Try: SSP schools aim to help parents feel reassured that that their child is safe when at school. • Messages should be supported with specific examples, relevant to location. This will help parents to understand how the initiative will work in practice- helping them to feel positive about it and that their child will benefit. E.g. SSPs help ensure that local community issues such as gang cultures, weapons and racism can be challenged and will not be tolerated in the school environment • Explaining the parameters of SSPs and the anticipated outcomes will help to manage expectations to highlight the contribution SSPs will make E.g. Rephrase the statement "Many parents think that standards are slipping and children are less respectful of authority than they used to be. One of the many benefits of local police working more closely with schools is that it helps promote better relationships and better attitudes towards authority” by explaining that. “Teaching children and young people respect, positive behaviour and moral values”. This will help to empathise with parents’ feelings: concerns about safety, moral values and their children learning and developing through school. Summary of conclusions for communicating SSPs to children and young people Proactive messages resonated the best; e.g. what SSPs will do to help learning and how they are relevant to their school and build positive relationships rather than those about stopping current poor behaviour Young people would like to know what is happening in other Schools in their area, so the scheme feels part of something positive and joined up. The different roles of teachers and SSP officers need to be clearly communicated and the young people need to be reassured that the SSP person is friendly, trustworthy and wants to be there. Advocate having a positive ‘launch’ in each school, so that the SSP officer is given kudos and the whole initiative is felt to be exciting. A strapline that’s relevant and easy to remember will resonate better than the term SSPs
The specific research objectives were to provide an understanding of parents’ and young people’s spontaneous reactions and feelings about police presence in schools: • Ascertain what is it they know about police in schools and where/how they get their information • Test a range of messages about SSPs and explored reactions to the messages • Listen out for how parents and children spoke about the topic, including the language and tone they use, helping to understand how to position relevant messages • Explore parents’ and young people’s perceptions of SSPs, once they were given more information and gave a considered response • Establish how to harness the positive perceptions and address the negative perceptions
The Safer School Partnerships (SSP) programme enables local agencies to address significant behavioural and crime-related issues in and around a school. The SSP programme was launched as a pilot in September 2002, and brought into mainstream policy in March 2006. Please note that this research was commissioned by the Department for Children Schools and Families under the previous administration and not is necessarily representative of current government policy
Research was required to understand the current perceptions of police involvement in schools and explore how to best create a positive perception of police in schools. Safer School Partnerships were generally regarded as a positive concept and the initiative was not out-rightly rejected by anyone, although the concept needs better explanation/communication amongst both parents and children and young people (CYP).
Adults - Parents of children aged 9 to 17; children and young people aged between 9 and 17
Six, 90 minute mini groups (6 individuals) with parents of children aged 9 to 17; two groups with fathers, four groups with mothers • Eight, 90 minute quads (4 friends) with children and young people aged between 9 and 17 Groups were split between children who attended SSP schools and those who did not.
Data collection methodology
Six, 90 minute mini groups (6 individuals) with parents; Eight, 90 minute quads (4 friends) with children and young people
Research took place across England (rural, suburban and city locations): London (Camden, Islington, Hackney, Haringey), Stockport, Rural Kent, Newcastle, Nottingham