Throughout the month of February, we’re telling the story of the 21 teenagers who were murdered in 2023. Our campaign, The 21, seeks to remember every victim as a young person with a family and their whole life ahead of them. We want to change the culture of kids carrying knives and becoming involved in violence.

A Greenwich headteacher has said that character development and working with families is her top method for keeping children away from crime.

Carolyn Roberts, headteacher at Thomas Tallis School in Kidbrooke, has been a teacher for 40 years and a headteacher for 20 years.

She has worked at Thomas Tallis School for the last 11 years.

Carolyn has had to deal with pupils becoming involved in crime throughout her career and says it is something that happens in every single secondary school.

She said: “Young people sometimes fall into criminal activity in a range of things whether it’s violence, drugs or theft – there’s all kinds of things teenagers can make the wrong decisions and the wrong choices about.

Romford Recorder: Carolyn Roberts: Headteacher of Thomas Tallis School in KidbrookeCarolyn Roberts: Headteacher of Thomas Tallis School in Kidbrooke (Image: Thomas Tallis School)

“Schools, as far as possible, will try to work with them to help them develop their character in a different way.

“All secondary schools will have had children who are involved in criminal activity.

“Every single one of them will have done and I have done too.”

When asked how she would tackle a child falling into criminal activity, she explained that her approach would be different for every child.

But character development is ultimately at the heart of tackling the issue, she believes.

Carolyn added: “Obviously sometimes the school has to part company with a young person who has been involved in really bad activity.

Romford Recorder: Thomas Tallis School in KidbrookeThomas Tallis School in Kidbrooke (Image: Thomas Tallis School)

“But, if a young person stays with the school, then there can be mentoring, there can be one-to-one support, working with their family and making sure that that young person has someone they can trust that they can talk to in school.

“We have counsellors, we have a whole welfare team, we have very strong links with pupil’s homes.

“We will try also to make sure the schools set an example of what’s the right way to live and the right way to act.

“We try to encourage them to be kind and respectful, but all schools will have characteristics they want pupils to take on as they grow up to be adults.”

Carolyn believes that this approach can help children to escape from becoming involved in crime, provided that they are in a position to remove themselves from situations where they are at risk of partaking in it.

For example, if a child’s home life is “chaotic” or they are “living in an area with high levels of criminal activity” it may be more difficult for a school to successfully remove them from that lifestyle.

Despite this, throughout her career Carolyn has found that her preference is to work with teenagers because of their unpredictability.

She said: “They are sort of on that borderline between being children and adults so they’re full of enthusiasm and ideas and opinions about how the world should be.”

Something Carolyn believes could reduce the number of teenagers becoming involved in crime is providing more funding for the police and activities for children to participate in outside of school.

She calls for more funding for these areas so that young people are not “at the mercy of people who would divert them into the wrong pathways”.

Carolyn added: “I think the police are woefully underfunded, I think that the underfunding of the police is a national scandal, like the underfunding of education and the demise of the youth service.

“Yes, I would love for the police to do more but they, like me, are in a public service and at the moment they simply don’t have the personnel on the ground.

“We need more funding in schools, we need more funding for police and we need more funding for alternative activities for young people so they’re not at the mercy of people who would divert them into the wrong pathways.”

When it comes to the safety of teachers in a time where teens can become involved in crime, Carolyn hopes that schools have the systems and structures in place to protect them from “all but the most extreme and extraordinary events”.

Carolyn believes that what makes teacher’s lives difficult in a post-pandemic world is poor behaviour post-Covid more so than crime.

She said that the disruption caused by schools closing during lockdown as affected children’s behaviour and that it is now much more common for children to skip school, in particular for young people who “don’t believe themselves to very successful in school, and for families who struggle to maintain high attendance”.