Thursday, 27 October 2011

What we know about the rioters now

Back in August when there were riots in some of our major cities I wrote it was too soon to debate what the causes might be, we needed a period of time to pass before taking a long, calm look at the causes. This week the Ministry of Justice published comprehensive statistics about the background of the rioters:

  • More than 2,500 businesses and 230 homes were damaged or burgled during the riots
  • 90% of those brought to court were male and one half were under 21
  • 42% were white; and only 13% of all those brought to court were gang members
  • 35% of the adults (age 18 or over) were claiming out of work benefits (the national average is 12%)
  • 80% of the adults and 62% of the juveniles had a previous conviction
  • 42% of the young people (i.e. under 18) were in receipt of free school meals (the commonly used indicator of coming from a poor background) compared to the national average of 16%
  • Two thirds of the young people had some form of special educational need compared to the national average of 21%
  • Over one third of the young people had been temporarily excluded from school compared to a national average of 6% and more than one in ten had been expelled from school, compared to a national average of 0.1%
It is well known that dyslexia (difficulty reading) is very over-represented in the prison population - some estimates say as many as two thirds of all prisoners cannot read. This may well be one of the 'special educational needs' that young people brought to court have.

Imagine going to school each day and not being able to read. In primary school you may find plenty of other things to motivate you but the ability to read becomes crucial in secondary school. Most Year 7 (the first year of secondary school when children are 11) text books require a reading age of about 13 years. Even 11 year olds who are good readers will be challenged a little, imagine what it is like if your reading age is much lower. 

So you find yourself increasingly unable to engage in secondary school education, its not surprising you might ask yourself about the point of school and decide it's not for you. But you have no choice - you have to be there day after day in an environment where you cannot succeed. You might kick against it, you might give up - either way you will end up in trouble. It's not hard to see how that might end up in the school excluding you. Then what do you do with your time? The state has a duty to provide a minimum education to you usually through an individual tutor, but the rest of the time is your own. Chances are you will be hanging around on the streets where, who knows, you might fall into bad company.

Of course there is no inevitability between difficulty reading and eventual criminality. Primary school children who are struggling to learn to read require extra help as soon as possible to overcome the difficulty. That is why Children North East encourages parents to introduce their children to books and read to them well before they start school. It is also why we are setting up a scheme for secondary school students to help primary school children to read.

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