Last Updated: Thursday, January 05, 2023

Supporting learners who offend, or who are at risk of offending

What is this?

This resource focuses on what we know about this group of learners and highlights successful inclusive practice based on research and case studies.


Who is this for?

Educational practitioners across all sectors of education with particular relevance to those in pastoral/pupil support and guidance roles.

Children and young people who present a risk of, or are involved in, offending are often highly vulnerable, with complex needs. In many cases, these young people have themselves been victims of crime, neglect and abuse, and a number are care experienced.

Explore this resource

Preventing offending is integral to Scottish Government’s vision of Scotland as the best place to grow up and to ‘Getting it Right for Every Child’. It is imperative that children are diverted away from the Criminal Justice System, wherever possible and appropriate, in order to avoid the criminalisation of their behaviour and the potential negative impact this could have on their future life chances.

‘Early school exclusion was one of the strongest predictors of making the transition from the Children’s Hearing System to the adult criminal justice system, and of ending up in custody, even taking other factors such as offending behaviour into account. School exclusion before age 12 increased the odds of imprisonment by age 22 by a factor of four.’ (McAra and McVie, 2010)

Education is a key partner in this preventative work; school attendance and staying engaged with learning can reduce risk and improve the life chances. A learning environment underpinned by stable positive relationships is a crucial factor in supporting all children and young people. Approaches to inclusion and well-planned support strategies to meet learners’ additional support needs can also play a significant role in minimising offending behaviour. For the small minority who will go through the Criminal Justice System then it is important that they are meaningfully supported to participate and understand the system and processes.

This resource provides information, resources, research-based evidence and a range of approaches which could help schools create inclusive, calm, learning environments which promote positive behaviour, identify and address learning needs, and support social and emotional wellbeing.

Improvement questions

These reflective questions invite you to consider the impact of your own practice, and your schools approaches, to improving the life chances and outcomes of learners involved in, or at risk of, offending.

  • How effectively do I build relationships with learners who offend or are at risk of offending?
  • How well do we as a school recognise and plan for transitions for these vulnerable learners?
  • How effective are we at recognising and planning for our learners who find it very difficult to engage with traditional school provision?
  • Do we adopt a holistic approach when working with the child/young person and their family?
  • Do we identify challenges and possible barriers to success through a multidisciplinary approach?
  • Do we create shared professional learning opportunities with key partners?


PDF file: Supporting learners who offend, or who are at risk of offending (1.9 MB)