Children as young as four are being caught in school armed with knives and other lethal weapons on average once a day, it can be revealed, as a Johnston Press investigation exposes the hidden terror at the heart of the nation's education system.
Teachers are tackling a growing number of knife crimes in their classrooms, according to figures obtained exclusively by the Johnston Press Investigations Team, of which this newspaper is a part, from police forces and local education authorities.
On an average school morning somewhere in the UK, a child will put on their uniform and walk into a playground concealing a knife or other weapon including prison-style "shanks" - made by fixing razor blades into felt-tipped pens.
More than 2,400 pupils have been caught with a knife or other weapon in school since 2012 according to data obtained from nearly two-thirds of UK police forces. Officers have had reports of more than 3,500 knife-related crimes on school grounds, including more than 660 knife-related assaults.
And the crisis is growing. Our investigation shows a 42 percent rise in children caught in possession of a knife or blade or other weapon over the last two academic years, in areas where comparative figures are available.
But some areas of the UK including rural counties have seen bigger increases. Reports of knife crimes in schools have increased overall by 12 per cent.
In South Yorkshire, there has been a 151 per cent rise in the number of children caught knives in school over the last two full academic years. In Greater Manchester, possession of weapons has increased by more than 90 percent. The West Midlands has seen an increase of nearly 30 per cent and London more than 20 percent.
Teachers, campaigners and senior politicians are calling for tougher action and better monitoring of knife-crime before more lives are lost.
A Government minister who sits on an inter-ministerial body charged with tackling knife crime has admitted the figures were "frightening", as another senior MP warned a generation of children were growing up “desensitised” to knife violence.
Robert Buckland QC, Solicitor General for England and Wales, said: “These are frightening statistics. The message still has to get through to young people that carrying a knife for your own protection is probably the most dangerous thing you can do.”
Sarah Jones, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime and MP for Croydon Central, has called for a 10-year strategy to tackle violent crime and has warned that cuts to youth services are also pilling extra pressure on schools.
"My fear is that generation of young people are growing up desensitised to violence," she said.
The investigation follows a series of high-profile knife attacks in schools including the deaths of teacher Ann Maguire at a college in Leeds in 2014 and Bailey Gwynne, 16, at a school in Aberdeen in 2015.
Just last week, when the annual Crime Survey for England and Wales showed a shocking 21 per cent increase in all knife crimes nationally, a 14-year-old boy was left permanently disfigured in an alleged attack with bladed weapon outside one of Glasgow's top secondary schools. A school in Lancashire also went into lockdown last week amid fears youths armed with knives were making their way to the campus.
When our reporter asked the Government if parents would be rightly alarmed at the finding that somewhere in the UK every day, a child carries a knife into school, both the Home Office and the Department for Education declined to comment.
In a statement, the Government said it launched a new community fund in October for projects to tackle knife crime and has since awarded £765,000 to 47 successful bids in England and Wales.
It said ministers have also launched a consultation on new legislation on offensive and dangerous weapons, including introducing an offence of having an article with a blade or point, or offensive weapon, in educational institutions other than schools.
A spokesman for the Department for Education: "This government has taken decisive action to put teachers back in charge of discipline in the classroom by strengthening their powers to take action if they suspect a pupil has brought prohibited items, including knives, into school.
“It is of paramount importance that schools provide a safe environment for their pupils, and any incident that does occur is completely unacceptable.
“Knife crime has devastating consequences and this Government is determined to tackle this and do all it can to break the deadly cycle and protect our children, families and communities.”
But Patrick Green, trust manager at the anti-knife crime charity The Ben Kinsella Trust, said: “These figures are frightening and what is of greater concern is they don’t show the full extent of the problem."