Widely known as criminology’s most prestigious award, those who receive the Stockholm Prize in Criminology have demonstrated groundbreaking progress in their field. The 2017 winner, Richard E Tremblay, is a professor from Montreal who has been working on the impact of biological family combined with social factors contributing to the human development, particularly criminal tendencies and predictions of future criminal activity based on the early years. For education, this research offers an insight into violent pupils and classroom disruption. His research refutes widely held beliefs and challenges previous conceptions about violent behaviour in young people.
Perhaps the most exciting and valuable finding relates to the peak age of violence. Until now this has been when a person reaches the age of 20. However, Tremblay has ably demonstrated that the age is lower than previously believed. His research shows that we are looking at violent tendencies peaking at just three years of age. It stresses the vital need for intervention and prevention while the child is impressionable. It is backed up by his second finding that, to quote his report, ‘the predictors of early and persistent violence are epigenetic as well as genetic’. It means that any previous considerations of inevitably are wrong and that this behaviour can be changed. While classroom safety must remain paramount, the education system will ultimately play a vital role in addressing pupil violence but accepting that intervention begins in the early years setting. By working to the now discredited age of 20, it would suggest that sadly many pupils who displayed classroom disruption may not have been flagged as potential future criminals and thus slipped through the net for early intervention and rehabilitation.
Links to Birth
His findings on the newly accepted age for peak violence have been further linked to trauma at birth. This new link also changes the beliefs and assumptions we have previously made about why children might develop into violent tendencies. Connections have already been made to poor parenting, but the findings in Professor Tremblay’s studies show that it starts early with birth trauma. Perhaps counter-intuitively the research showed that children falling into the birth trauma category, who attend preschool, were predisposed to violence than those that did not. Showing that early socialisation seemed in some way to intensify the violence. His research was carried out in Montreal schools, rather than UK schools, but there is nothing to suggest that geographical location would change the outcomes he discovered. These findings are vital for teacher safety, and indeed classroom safety as early management is the key.
Four findings from the research stood out to the committee that awarded the prize to Tremblay. The first three as discussed above, and the fourth providing compelling evidence that there was also a solution to this problem. It is potentially one of the most cohesive pieces of research presented for many years, offering not only a cause but a peak time for trouble. Although the pupil violence is demonstrated to peak at three years of age, the premium time for intensive intervention leading to a better chance of rehabilitation is between the ages of 7 and 9. He was able to offer findings that confirm that children who meet the criteria of both birth trauma and the attendance of preschool, at the age of four, were subject to intensive support at the later age changes. The results of his study showed that these pupils went on to display reductions in criminal records by a third, by the time they reached the age of 24, when compared to those aggressive children that did not take part in the program. The programs were designed to encompass the child, parents, and teachers, making it the most comprehensive intervention to date.
The Future of Education
The findings put forward by Tremblay have shown a way for schools to alter their policies. Early intervention that works with both the child and the parents can change the path of violent pupils. It is also vital that schools can identify those children who suffered a traumatic birth. There is no evidence to imply that stopping the children going to preschool would change the predisposition. But the impact of interception has been demonstrated. If a national framework can be adopted in the UK that considers all the findings from birth moving forward, a structure could be put in place that offers the vital support and intervention that Tremblay’s research demonstrated. Bringing decreases in classroom disruption but more importantly a lesser crime rate in adulthood from such children.