Education & Family

Four in 10 teachers 'attacked by pupils'

Teacher in a classroom with pupils Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Nine out of 10 staff have dealt with challenging behaviour, such as swearing or shouting, in the past year

Four out of 10 teachers have experienced violence from pupils in the past year, a survey for the ATL teachers union suggests.

Of those who had experienced violence, 77% said they had been pushed, and around half were kicked or had an object thrown at them.

Nine out of 10 staff had dealt with challenging behaviour, such as swearing or shouting, in the past year.

Staff have greater powers to deal with poor behaviour, the government said.

However, 45% of the 1,250-strong panel of teachers surveyed across England, Wales and Northern Ireland said they felt pupil behaviour had got worse in the past two years. Teachers in Scotland were not included in the survey.

Mental health

One special needs worker at a Bedfordshire primary school said she had been stabbed in the head with a pencil, while a teacher at a Suffolk secondary academy said she had been "sprayed in the face with deodorant".

In a third case, a support worker at a secondary school in Cheshire said a chair had been thrown that hit her leg.

A teaching assistant at a Rochdale primary school claimed: "Staff are regularly verbally abused with very little consequences. Occasionally pupils physically attack members of staff, but this rarely leads to a day's exclusion."

Teachers in the survey put the cause of violence down to a number of things.

A lack of boundaries at home was singled out as the top reason for challenging, disruptive or violent behaviour.

Some 78% pointed to emotional and behavioural problems as the cause, while nearly half said it was down to pupils' mental health issues.


Violent times?

Analysis by Hannah Richardson

The survey responses paint a worrying picture of what is going on in our classrooms: teachers being pushed, shoved, hit, spat at and even having furniture thrown at them

It is important to remember the survey is in no way saying this is a daily occurrence in most schools.

Four out of 10 teachers surveyed had experienced at least one incident in the past year, while nearly all had witnessed violence some time their career.

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted says the vast majority of pupils are well-behaved and a pleasure to teach.

But what the survey does reveal is that poor behaviour is often the result of deep-seated issues such as unsupported mental health problems or poor parenting.

And the responsibility for dealing with these problems goes far beyond the school gates, let alone the classroom.


'Unacceptable'

And nearly two-thirds of teachers felt pupils were under more stress than two years ago.

General secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Dr Mary Bousted, said having to cope with challenging or disruptive behaviour is unfortunately par for the course for education staff.

"It is shocking that more than four in 10 (43%) education professionals have had to deal with physical violence from a pupil in the last year," she said.

"No member of staff should be subjected to aggressive behaviour, in any form, while doing their job.

"A lack of funds for social services and child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) means pupils are at risk and, all too often, school staff are being left to plug the gaps in social care as best they can.

"Many schools do excellent work day in, day out to help pupils stay on track and to keep schools a safe place for pupils and staff.

"But schools need support from social and health services and parents to deal with the complex issues many pupils face due to chaotic home lives or mental health issues."

There have been numerous warnings about the pressures on schools resulting from a lack of mental health services in some areas.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "Teachers and school staff have a right to feel safe while doing their jobs and violence towards them is completely unacceptable.

"We have taken decisive action to put teachers back in charge of the classroom by giving them the powers they need to tackle poor behaviour and discipline.

"We have scrapped 'no touch' rules that stopped teachers removing disruptive pupils from classrooms and ensured schools' decisions on exclusions can no longer be overruled."

Labour's shadow minister for schools Nic Dakin said: " There is a teacher shortage crisis in this country with the highest number of teachers quitting the profession since records began and the government is regularly missing their targets on teacher recruitment. Incidents like this will not get more people into teaching.

"Ministers need to get their act together and bear down on poor behaviour, which is affecting teacher recruitment and retention and threatening standards in the classroom."

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