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Undercover teachers to track gang members online

Beware - dangerous minds at work

Teachers will be forced to become undercover homies as part of a government strategy to combat the rise of teenage gangs, the children’s minister will say today.

However, this won’t mean swapping their cords for do rags and baggy jeans, rather that they will have to scour social networking sites for evidence that their charges are in danger of being sucked into gangs and keep tabs on whether they acquire new trainers or phones.

Beverly Hughes is due to outline the strategy at a meeting on gang crime in Birmingham today. She will call on schools to respond to “signs or rumours” that children might be involved with dangerous gangs, according to The Guardian.

She will advise heads to develop emergency plans to deal with weapons-related violence, and get in touch with child protection experts if they suspect girls are being abused by gangs in initiation rituals or revenge attacks.

So far so arguably sensible. However, she will also call on schools to get into the active intelligence gathering game, and to train staff to watch out for gang’s “tags”, whether in graffiti or on exercise books. Where they do suspect gang activity, they should then gather evidence, including photos.

One sure fire sign of gang behaviour would appear to be the sudden acquisition of expensive trainers or mobile phones – gang culture having clearly eradicated the celebration of Christmas, birthdays, Bar mitzvahs etc. in the modern UK.

As if this recasting of teachers from the classroom to the intelligence community wasn’t enough, schools are advised to consider monitoring students’ activities on social networking sites, and consider using screening software to monitor their accounts.

This isn’t necessarily a barmy idea, as the nation’s young crims do have an astounding tendency to broadcast their exploits on the likes of YouTube.

However, it also raise questions over how far teachers should be expected to act as policemen, and intrude into students’ private space to decide whether they might indeed be at risk of gang activity.

Students are already being subjected to weapons searches, and asked to supply biometrics information to speed up register taking. Will having their out-of-school activities constantly monitored make the state seem more endearing and persuade them to become good little citizens?

That's even without considering the data protection issues involved - which at time of writing, no-one seemed particularly clear on.

And if nothing else, the prospect of thirty somethings trawling social networking sites looking to get down with the kids has a tendency to end in tears, embarassment, and, occasionally, court proceedings. ®

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