Police school plan called naive

By Errol Kiong

The police are introducing a new values-based programme into primary schools in a bid to bring down youth-offending rates.

But the project has been called "naive" by a leading child psychiatrist who does not believe it will address serious youth crime.

Doing the Right Thing is a series of lessons developed by Counties Manukau teachers and police education officers for schools around the country.

Launched by the police youth education service at Bucklands Beach Intermediate yesterday, the programme focuses on five themes: honesty, respect, rules and laws, consequences, and right and wrong.

Police Minister George Hawkins, unable to attend the launch, said in a statement that the programme would help children to develop respect for other people and for the law.

"It is unacceptable that 22 per cent of all resolved offences are committed by under-16s," he said.

But Professor John Werry, emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Auckland, said the programme was naive.

"It's Dr Feelgood or Pollyanna stuff that is well-intentioned, but most kids already know what's right and wrong. A policeman going around to teach them values is not going to improve the statistics."

Professor Werry said youth offenders fell into two groups: those who offended because of peer pressure and alcohol, and those who had severe conduct disorder. The latter group, although smaller, committed around 50 per cent of all youth crime, he said. They were also responsible for more serious and violent crimes.

This latter group would not be affected by any values-based programme in schools, he said.

Doing the Right Thing is voluntary. Schools that adopt the programme spend 10 to 15 hours a year on the curriculum, divided into junior, middle and senior primary levels. It complements existing police programmes such as anti-bullying and road safety education.

Bucklands Beach Intermediate principal Ian Fox said many parents found the programmes useful.

"I think it's good for the students and parents to see the police in a positive role in the community rather than just seeing them picking up the negative side of society."

Youth education service national manager Owen Sanders said it was a new way of reaching out to youth.

"We can't go back to how things were run in the past. We can't suddenly make our kids go to church. What we have to do is take the existing institutions in our society and learn to use them in new ways for the benefit of our young."

Curriculum officer Gill Palmer said Doing the Right Thing was reintroducing the old values that were no longer taught in schools.

"Doing the Right Thing is an effort to start teaching good values and to get kids to look at their own values and to make changes if they want to.

"There are definitely shades of grey. The children will be working this out among themselves. It's a learning thing rather than a preaching thing."

Right…and wrong

A police officer and a teacher will run through each lesson together. The police officer will explain the law, while a teacher will explain the moral value involved.

Under Rules, Laws and Consequences, students will get a chance to look at an official police juvenile report form. Exercises include matching situations with offences - for example, borrowing a bike is conversion under the Crimes Act 1961.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, used as a case study at junior primary level, illustrated right and wrong, said curriculum officer Gill Palmer. "Goldilocks shouldn't have gone into the house because that was breaking and entering," she said.

"They shouldn't have eaten the porridge because that was taking something from someone.

"And then when they get up to middle primary, they're thinking about honesty.

"At senior primary level, they're looking at it as though Goldilocks has actually come up for those charges and they hold a family group conference with Goldilocks to see if she can improve her behaviour."

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