Sir Mark Rowley
Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis
New Scotland Yard
Dear Sir Rowley,
We are writing to express our concern over reports of a letter from the Detective Chief Superintendent for south-West London to headteachers, indicating that there was to be an escalation of police presence in local schools in light of recent global events.
Reporting indicates that the letter proposed to use the results of communications between the police officers and school staff ‘to help our intelligence and information-gathering.’ In this same report a Met spokesperson stated that ‘[a]cross London there are more than 300 safer schools officers working to reassure communities and protect children from those who would exploit current tensions to commit hate crimes.’
Our report Over-policed and under-protected found there to be 489 Safer Schools Officers (SSOs) operating in London schools, far higher than the number approximated in the statement. We know that there is little credible evidence for the ‘reassurance’ or ‘protection’ that SSOs purport to provide to children in schools, on the contrary, there is considerable evidence that highlights the damaging and traumatic impacts of hostile encounters with police officers in school settings; spaces that children ought to be able to feel safe. Child Q’s horrific experience may have caught the news headlines, but on a more routine level, the placement of SSOs in working class, racialised school communities has an impact on children in ways that shape their experiences. In our report, we argued that the punitive nature of policing, coupled with longstanding experiences of over policing in Black and minority ethnic communities, means that the police can be an intimidating and threatening presence for these students.
In addition, the notion that SSOs would be deployed to help with intelligence and information gathering is a breach of the duty of care schools and teachers have to children and young people in their classrooms. In the context of what is happening in Gaza, many students will be returning from half-term having been exposed to scenes of death and destruction on a 24 hour news cycle that has documented horrific events. We have also seen a significant rise in Antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crimes in the UK in this corresponding period. Children and young people will have questions and emotional responses to these events and must be afforded safe spaces to ask critical questions.
We are concerned that the escalation of police presence to actively surveil conversations and to ‘gather intelligence’ is a betrayal of children’s rights to privacy and free expression. When we add to this the Prevent Duty as it operates in schools, we also know that any increased surveillance is likely to have a highly racialised impact on British Muslim communities, with Muslim children and young people more likely to be profiled and sanctioned..
We call for an end to the deployment of police in schools generally and the cessation of any increased activity in this current context. Schools need to be safe spaces for children and young people to learn, challenge and grow, not sites for surveillance, intelligence gathering and criminalisation. More widely, we call on government ministers to desist from statements that generate the conditions where legitimately expressed opposition to government position and global events is criminalised. What is happening in Gaza should not become an excuse for increasing the surveillance of children or the further curtailment of our democratic rights.
Dr Shabna Begum and Laurence Jay
Interim co-CEOs, Runnymede Trust
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