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EIF report

Intervening early to prevent gang and youth violence: The role of primary schools


13 Mar 2018

This report explores the extent to which young children at risk of gang involvement or youth violence are supported through evidence-based early intervention, particularly within primary schools.

Full report



The report draws on qualitative interviews with schools, local government officials, police and voluntary sector organisations within the London boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth, and builds on earlier EIF research which indicates that risk factors for gang involvement and youth violence can be spotted as early as age seven.

Our research paints a picture of primary school staff who know their children and local families well, and who go above and beyond to try to provide strong, positive role models and to support children’s emotional wellbeing. However, there is also a strong sense that some school staff are intensely frustrated and feel unsupported in their efforts to work with vulnerable children. Some staff expressed anger and sadness as they told us that they feel unable to change children’s outcomes in spite of their best efforts.

The school staff and stakeholders we spoke to identified a range of concerns, including:

  • the lack of a clear or shared understanding of the level of risk within a school
  • a lack of clarity or confidence in identifying and accessing statutory and other services beyond the school walls
  • a limited awareness of the range and quality of external support that is available to schools, and little evaluation of the external support that is commissioned
  • the pressure on schools to focus on academic performance to the exclusion of children’s wellbeing, a challenge which is often exacerbated in schools located in areas where the risk of gang and youth violence is likely to be higher.

Our recommendations concentrate on four areas:

  • improving the use of evidence in commissioning in-school support and programmes, including by providing improved information to schools and by calling on funders and commissioners at the national or regional level to make evidence-based decisions
  • increasing the emphasis on and time available for developing children’s social and emotional skills in primary schools, including by making PSHE compulsory in all schools and by requiring Ofsted to consider how well schools are supporting children’s wellbeing alongside the academic performance
  • improving the links between schools and the wider early help system in their area, so that school staff are clear about the options that are open to them and confident that referrals will result in support for children and families
  • examining how the police can most effectively work within primary schools to help prevent gang and youth violence.

This report is the first output of a three-year project that will explore and support the testing of evidence-informed approaches to early intervention to prevent gang involvement and youth violence. We will be working with the local authorities, police, participating schools and providers in Lambeth and Wandsworth over the next two years, with a view to co-designing, implementing and testing new approaches to preventing gang and youth violence through effective early intervention.

About the authors

Stephanie Waddell

Steph is assistant director for impact and knowledge mobilisation at EIF.

Naomi Jones

Naomi is an EIF associate.