In response to a knife attack in London on August 8, 2019, Boris Johnson said he is going to put more police on the streets. 

Of course he is right to suggest people will feel safer as a result.

However, he couldn’t be more wrong if he had thought that more police would solve the underlying issues that are causing this resurgence in knife crime. This needs to be understood in the context of what is driving young people to seek a life of crime and gangs. Many are themselves vulnerable and need help.

Further education colleges should be at centre of the debate as we seek solutions.

The PM is no doubt aware that more police won’t solve the knife crime problem

In particular, two things need to be addressed – the reduction in college funding and the lack of emphasis on personal development as we focus on qualifications and job readiness.

Funding cuts have meant that colleges are no longer able to offer a broad enough curriculum. This narrowing of the curriculum, to maintain financial viability, comes at the expense of losing provision which would be better suited to engaging some of our more vulnerable young people.

The relentless focus on employability and job readiness, in policy, regulation and funding for FE has neglected that other essential quality of education – the development of character.

Johnson should understand this. His alma mater, Eton, includes among its aims “fostering self-confidence, enthusiasm, perseverance, tolerance and integrity”.

The question is whether these noble qualities should be fostered in the few or the many.

The PM is no doubt aware that more police won’t solve the knife crime problem.

I would argue that cuts in college funding coupled with an education system that is focussed primarily on employability is at best naively dangerous.

One way to chart a more purposeful course would be to promote and regulate FE as a sector with the dual purpose of encouraging employability and job readiness as well as citizenship and community cohesion.

There are multiple approaches to combining the two and this agenda is very much part of the fabric of the FE sector.

To augment a young persons’ educational programme of study with work around purposeful citizenship to help them contribute meaningfully to their local community is relatively straight forward.

There are multiple examples of this kind of work in colleges, including an enquiry-based philosophical approach called AskIt which is promoted by the Helen Hamlyn Trust and adapted to a vocational education setting here at Central Bedfordshire College.

AskIt enables young people to learn to debate, to accept difference, to air their views and to vent any anger in an enlightened and purposeful manner.

AskIt is a methodical approach to learning. It is about how to think, how to question and how to articulate arguments. The college uses AskIt to help young people learn and hone important skills beyond the technical discipline in which they train and work, alongside training to become plumbers, carpenters, hairdressers, social workers, computer programmers, nurses and the many other careers which they can look forward to.

I call upon the Prime Minister to engage with the FE sector in a meaningful way so that we are better able to support community cohesion as much skills. Both are urgent priorities with the advent of Brexit.