Hundreds of knives are among weapons seized from schools across the country, figures have revealed as police chiefs warn of a “worrying” spike in the number of young people carrying them.
The majority of seizures involved children, including some as young as five, according to police figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Data from 32 forces in England and Wales shows that 2,579 weapons were seized at schools between April 2015 and the beginning of this year, including axes and air guns, as well as almost 500 knives.
The statistics come as the Guardian runs its Beyond the Blade series, an in-depth look at UK knife crime in 2017, and while some police forces roll out a crackdown on knife crime in schools.
Chief constable Alf Hitchcock, who leads the National Police Chiefs Council taskforce on knife crime, said: “Schools should be free of weapons and all children should be able to learn without fear or violence.
“We have recently seen an increase in young people carrying knives and this is worrying. We are responding to this trend by targeting those who carry them illegally and working with retailers to reduce the sale of knives to underage people through nationally coordinated operations.”
According to the figures released to the Press Association, 1,369 weapons found between April 2016 and beginning of this year – a rise of almost 20% on the previous full year.
Besides knives, 26 guns, including BB guns, air rifles and an imitation firearm were also seized. More unusual contraband included a police baton, a rolling pin, a can of beer and a 38cm (15”) metal rod. One student fashioned an improvised battery device, while another appeared to have improvised a weapon from an unwound paperclip.
At least 47 children found with weapons were younger than 10 – the age at which someone can be prosecuted. This included three five-year-olds, one of whom was caught with a knife while another was found with a “missile”– typically a brick or a rock.
A number of cases in recent years has highlighted the issues of knife crime in schools. In April 2014, Spanish teacher Ann Maguire, 61, was stabbed to death with 21cm knife by pupil Will Cornick at Corpus Christi Catholic College. Cornick, now 18, is serving a life sentence in prison.
The following year, teacher Vincent Uzomah was seriously injured when he was stabbed at Dixons Kings academy in Bradford by a racist pupil.
The boy, described as a low-achieving cannabis user with a criminal record, was 14 when he stabbed Uzomah, 50, a supply teacher, after an argument about an iPhone. The boy was given an extended sentence of 11 years.
The latest government figures show that in 2014-15 there were more than 132,000 occasions in which primary and secondary school pupils in England were suspended for assault or verbally abusing and threatening behaviour.
In addition, there were more than 2,100 permanent exclusions for these reasons.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools work closely with the police to protect and educate their pupils, and in some cases police officers are stationed in schools. Where appropriate, schools conduct searches and use metal detectors, and they implement robust disciplinary procedures against anyone found in possession of a weapon.
“Young people are taught about the dangers of offensive weapons both in lessons and in talks delivered by invited speakers.”
Police last week urged more schools in London to install metal scanners to protect children from rising violent crime as the death toll from stabbings in the capital continued to rise.
A 17-year-old boy who died after being stabbed in north-east London on Sunday became the latest young person to be killed with a knife. Elijah Dornelly was found injured on Walthamstow High Street at about 11.30pm and died later in hospital. Earlier in the day, he was one of hundreds of people who attended a peace march led by mothers who have lost children to knife crime.
His death brings the number of teenagers and children killed in knife incidents in the UK this year to 15.
Police-recorded data for England and Wales in the whole of 2016 showed a 14% rise in knife crime.
The new Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, has said that tackling rising knife and other violent crime is a priority and that she is prepared to increase use of stop and search, despite past clashes with government over the tactic.