Children are being caught in school armed with knives and other lethal weapons on average once a day across the country, it can be revealed.
Teachers are tackling a growing number of knife crimes in their classrooms, according to figures obtained exclusively by the Johnston Press Investigations Team.
More than 2,400 pupils nationwide have been caught with a knife or other weapon in school since 2012 according to data obtained from nearly two-thirds of UK police forces.
Officers have had reports of more than 3,500 knife-related crimes on UK school grounds, including more than 660 knife-related assaults.
Today - on the first of day of a series of investigative reports - teachers, campaigners and senior politicians are calling for tougher action and better monitoring of knife-crime before more lives are lost.
In Lancashire figures for the last two years reveal there were 18 permanent exclusions and 58 fixed period exclusions due to weapons in schools.
If you don’t know the full extent or size of a problem, how can you properly address it or tackle it?
Figures disclosed by Lancashire County Council show during 2016/17, there were six permanent exclusions in Lancashire schools due to weapons - four were due to knives, one a pen-knife and one a BB gun.
The reasons given for the 24 fixed exclusions – where pupils are temporarily removed from school – six involved a dangerous weapon or object, four unknown or prohibited items, four a BB gun, one a catapult, two for laser pens, four for knives and three for pen knives.
During the previous year 2015/16, there were 12 permanent exclusions at Lancashire schools involving weapons and 34 fixed period exclusions.
However, although figures relating to exclusions of pupils due to weapons were supplied to us, when we approached Lancashire County Council for figures relating to incidents of children reported to be in possession of a knife or other bladed or pointed weapon on school premises, the council admitted it did not hold this information.
This has raised concerns and seems to be a widespread issue about systems for recording knife crimes in schools as the overwhelming majority of the 213 local education authorities contacted either failed to respond or said they did not hold the data.
Patrick Green, manager of anti-knife organisation The Ben Kinsella Trust, says he thinks it is shocking that the majority of local education authorities admitted they did not hold data relating to knife crime in schools.
He said: “If you don’t know the full extent or size of a problem, how can you properly address it or tackle it?”
County Coun Susie Charles, cabinet member for children, young people and schools at Lancashire County Council, said: “It’s vital that parents and carers trust schools to keep their children safe and we’re fortunate that Lancashire’s schools provide a safe environment where students can thrive and focus on their education.
“However, it’s important to be prepared in case the worst happens and we provide advice to schools on how to deal with incidents of all kinds and issue guidance to help staff respond effectively to an emergency at school or on an educational visit.
“The Department for Education recommend that schools create and maintain an emergency plan, provide training to staff who could become involved in an incident and carry out exercises to test their plans.
“Schools take every incident involving a weapon very seriously and the number of exclusions where this is given as a reason is low considering that we have 167,000 children in around 600 schools. The number of exclusions due to weapons vary from year to year but have fallen from 2015/16 to 2016/17.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education: “This Government has taken decisive action to put teachers back in charge of discipline in the classroom by strengthening their powers to take action if they suspect a pupil has brought prohibited items, including knives, into school.
“It is of paramount importance that schools provide a safe environment for their pupils, and any incident that does occur is completely unacceptable.
“Knife crime has devastating consequences and this Government is determined to tackle this and do all it can to break the deadly cycle and protect our children, families and communities.”
What do the statistics say?
Lancashire Police supplied our investigation with crimes related to knives on school grounds broken down by crime and district and year from 2012 to 2017.
These incidents only related to “knives” and not any other weapon or sharp object.
The reported crimes included an allegation of rape of a girl under 16 at a Preston school involving a knife in 2013 and a burglary involving a knife on school grounds in Lancaster in 2015.
There were eight reports of possession of knives or weapons with a blade or point in 2017 across schools in Lancashire including Blackpool, Preston, Burnley and Rossendale, South Ribble, West Lancashire, Lancaster and Pendle and Ribble Valley.
Other incidents shown in the data relating to crimes related to knives on school grounds included assaults with injury and woundings as well as public fear alarm or distress incidents, theft and robbery of personal property.
Chilling memories of a chief inspector
There’s a memory that sticks vividly in the mind of Ch Insp Steve Sansbury of Lancashire Police when it comes to knife crime and young people.
As a young officer he remembers attending an incident where a 15-year-old boy stuck a penknife into another boy’s chest.
Ch Insp Steve Sansbury recalls: “They were having an argument and the lad thrust his penknife into the other lad’s chest.
“It nicked an artery and the other boy bled out quickly and died at the scene.
“This teenager never intended to kill the boy but his actions led to a devastating outcome.”
Ch Insp Sansbury, who runs knife amnesties at the force, says there is never a good reason for carrying a knife in a school.
He says: “Some young people may think it is a form of protection against bullying, others may bring in unusual knives for a completely innocent reason and others may feel they need to bolster their reputation by carrying a knife.
“But none of these reasons are good reasons and the potential consequence of a knife being used on you or against you or even if you are found in possession of it could potentially ruin the rest of your life.
“You could end up with a criminal record and someone could end up with life changing injuries or even dead.
“We take the issue of knife crime seriously because we know the potential outcomes.
“Luckily, we do not appear to have a serious problem with knife crime and young people.
“However, if schools are not reporting possession of a weapon data, it is difficult to assess the issue.
“If schools are not reporting the lower level carrying of knives and sharp weapons of pupils to us, the onus is on them [the schools] to deal with it adequately.”