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.

Schools have a critical role to play in the prevention of violent crime, a senior teacher has said, after a rash of fatal attacks across the capital.

Hiri Arunagiri, safeguarding lead and assistant head at Acland Burghley School in north London, said open conversations about tragic incidents were vital.

This comes after a wave of violent attacks including the fatal stabbing of Elianne Andam, 15, in Croydon on September 27.

Hiri, at Acland Burghley for more than six years, said it was key to facilitate these difficult conversations.

“What we find important is talking about it [incidents] when things happen in the media,” she said.

“Then young people know we are actually going to talk about this, we are going to work together on this – it’s not something we avoid.”

The teacher added that when tragic incidents occur, such as the Croydon stabbing, a lesson can be produced around it for young people to learn from.

For example, educational organisation Life Lessons, which works with Acland Burghley, created a session after Elianne’s tragic death.

Hiri also pointed out that knife crime should not be the sole focus of schools, since a singular discourse could exclude young people.

“If you just talk about knife crime you’re alienating a lot of young people because they can’t ever see themselves in that situation, so we broaden it out,” she said.

Mental health and financial literacy, including topics such as payday loans, are also topics Hiri is keen to address with students.

“The burden this can cause on people [that] can also lead to unsafe situations,” she added.

Acland Burghley works with Camden Council’s detached project team, a youth support group, on a programme called Choices that all Year 9 students at Burghley are part of.

They also work with the Somali Youth Development Resource Centre (SYDRC), a mentoring group which supports young people of Somali background who struggle to engage in school.

Weapons awareness, decision-making and consequences are among the areas Choices seeks to address, Hiri said, and other schemes are in place to help students.

The iLab, the school’s library, is kept open until 7pm from Monday to Wednesday to provide young people a safe space and the option to speak to a staff member.

Hiri also said that helping students figure out their next steps was key to tackling loneliness, a problem that especially affects young people today.

Brits aged between 16-29 are over two times as likely to report feeling lonely often or always than those over 70, according to data from the Campaign to End Loneliness which analysed ONS data sampled between December 2022 to February 2023.

“If we can help a young person figure out their pathways, they’re less likely to feel one, alone, and two, not be unsure of their next steps,” Hiri said.

She said that Future First, a mentoring organisation that works with the school, was instrumental in this regard.

Not shying away from difficult topics, including tragic incidents, is key to Hiri's approach, epitmoised in their joint programme "Choices" that give students the tools to avoid potential dangers.

"They [students] go through the choices that young people might have to make and help them navigate around these complexities," Hiri added.