In her recent BERA Blog post Margaret Mulholland (2022) asserts that truly inclusive education involves the ability to think like a detective. To be truly responsive to the needs of children and young people who are challenged by the school environment requires, she states, a more holistic response for each child, incorporating an understanding of the way they think, their interests, strengths and fears – as well as reference to the contextual environment.
Last year I worked on a project exploring links between school culture and mental health. One of the case study schools had particular concerns about the involvement of a small number of their students in violent, criminal gangs. Drawing on this, I successfully bid for an NIHR Mental Health fellowship which sets out to explore, from the perspective of gang-involved young people, their trajectory into this marginalised way of life. Factors predisposing young people (YP) towards gang involvement are complex and multi-layered; this study will pay particular attention to links between gang involvement, mental health and experiences of school.
Gang-associated children were found to be 77 per cent more likely to have an unidentified mental health need than other children assessed by children’s services, and are twice as likely to self-harm (CCE, 2019). Moreover, where YP have been excluded from mainstream school and sent to pupil referral units (PRUs) the danger of gang recruitment is higher; indeed PRUs have been identified as ‘fertile ground’ for grooming YP into becoming gang members (CCE, 2019). The majority of gang members either self-exclude (truant) or have been officially excluded from school and are likely to be spending large amounts of time unsupervised on the streets (Young et al., 2007).