Islington teachers furious as “invaluable” school police team slashed

Pioneering police team has “transformed community relations”

“INVALUABLE” police officers attached to Islington’s primary schools are to be axed after funding for a pioneering anti-crime scheme was pulled by the council.

Since 2007 a dedicated team of 18 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) have worked closely with every primary school in Islington to help guide misbehaving pupils, tackle truancy, patrol the school gates and even run lunchtime “detective clubs”.

The initiative – the first of its kind in London – was introduced against a backdrop of rising knife crime and youth violence and is jointly funded by Islington Council, the Metropolitan Police and Arsenal Football Club.

But the new Labour council is to controversially pull its share of the �280,000-a-year running costs – angering head teachers and parents who have condemned the loss as “a tragedy”.

The council has refused to reveal how much the drastic measure would save, but the Gazette understands it is around �230,000 year.

Barry O’Shea, head teacher of Duncombe Primary School, in Sussex Way, Holloway, said: “The PCSOs have been an incredible resource for our school. They’ve built up a very good relationship with the local community.

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“They come in the playground and the children run up to them – they treat them as people they respect and are very fond of. It’s done enormous things for the Metropolitan Police’s reputation. If children are in trouble outside school now they will approach a police officer.”

He added: “They always come in pairs and we see them at least once a week. If they are removed or watered down in anyway then its inevitable some schools will see them less.”

Sue Seifert, who retired after 11 years as head of Montem Primary School, in Hornsey Road, Holloway, last year, said: “The PCSOs have become invaluable in schools. They meant a lot to kids and if you felt something was going to kick off outside the gates at the end of the day they were there for you. You go to any head in any school they will say they added value to the community.”

Islington Council faces a �70million shortfall in its finances over the next three years but has refused to scrap its controversial IslingtonLife magazine, which costs �251,000 a year.

The latest cuts, announced by Labour community safety chief Barbara Sidnell, mean the 18-strong primary school PCSO team will be slashed to just seven.

Mrs Seifert added: “It’s a tragedy. The PCSOs were a fringe benefit but if they could find that money elsewhere, we’d love to keep them.”

Councillor Stacy, leader of the Lib Dem opposition, said: “This decision shows that Labour councillors couldn’t give a toss about community safety in Islington. Labour councillors prefer to spend millions giving free school meals to kids from Hampstead and Highgate attending Islington schools rather than keeping our streets safe.

“Labour’s executive member for community safety has been almost silent since May. Now she will become famous as ‘Slasher Sidnell’.”

Islington Labour’s May election manifesto promised “targeted action to keep kids out of trouble” in a bid to “get tough on crime”.

Councillor Sidnell, said: “Every part of the council is under pressure from Government cuts - we are having to make major savings and this includes reducing some of our funding to partners including the police.

“The cut in funding for the 18 PCSOs is no reflection on the valuable work they’ve been doing with the borough’s primary schools. Islington has a very good record on reducing youth crime and this will remain a priority in the forthcoming budget rounds.”

The Met has confirmed it will foot the bill for the seven remaining officers with help from continued police funding donated by Arsenal FC.

A spokeswoman for Islington Police said: “We will be reducing the number of schools PCSO posts to seven. Whilst this will mean some reduction in the service we provide, we will continue to prioritise safety in schools and to work closely with teachers and Islington Council to achieve this.”