Dealing with violent pupils is ‘par for the course’

Survey finds nearly half of teachers have suffered physical aggression

More than a quarter of teachers and school support staff have had to deal with violence from pupils in the last six months, according to research published today.

A survey by the ATL teaching union found that nearly half – 49 per cent – of school staff have had to deal with physical aggression from pupils at some point during their careers.

This included punching, hitting, stabbing, pushing, spitting, scratching, kicking, having furniture or equipment thrown at them and the use of weapons.

A third of staff said that they believed pupil behaviour had got worse in the past two years.

One member of special educational needs staff at a primary school in Bedfordshire reported having “a pencil stabbed in my head”. A teacher in a Suffolk secondary academy said that they had been “sprayed in the face with deodorant” and another at a Yorkshire academy had stones thrown at their house.

Dealing with pupils’ “challenging or disruptive behaviour” had led more than a quarter of the 1,250 teachers and support staff surveyed to consider changing occupation, according to the research.

When asked whether they had experienced physical violence from a pupil at any point in the last six months, 352 said yes, 446 no, 26 said the question did not apply to them and 331 skipped the question.

Poor pupil behaviour had caused stress in more than a third (37 per cent) of the staff, and anxiety in 30 per cent. Visits to the doctor were necessary for 92 of the respondents.

Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said that while the majority of pupils were well-behaved, it was “shocking” that having to deal with challenging or disruptive behaviour was becoming “par for the course”.

“No member of staff should be subjected to aggressive behaviour, in any form, while doing their job,” she said. “A lack of funds for social services and child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) means that pupils are at risk and, all too often, school staff are being left to plug the gaps in social care as best they can.”

The survey suggests that teachers and support staff were almost equally likely to have had to deal with poor behaviour. The ATL found that 66 per cent of teachers and 62 per cent of support staff had dealt with a challenging or disruptive pupil in the past six months.

The latest Department for Education (DfE) statistics show that the number of pupils in England’s schools excluded for violence against adults is increasing (see data box).

Patsy Weighill, headteacher of Bilton School, a secondary in Rugby, said: “Deliberate physical violence from students towards our staff is extremely rare and is always dealt with robustly by the school. I have had an occasion where a parent barged past reception even though they had been asked not to, coming into my office to then threaten me with violence. It was a momentarily shocking experience.

“I think that the onus is on schools to do everything we can, including involving the police where necessary, to protect all of our staff from being abused just because they happen to work in a school.”

Dr Bousted said: “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 that many pupils face due to chaotic home lives or mental health issues.

“Schools need firm and consistent discipline policies in place and support from parents to ensure they support pupils the best they can.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Teachers and school staff have a right to feel safe while doing their jobs and violence towards them is completely unacceptable.

“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.” @teshelen

This is a story that appears in the 29 January edition of TES. For Tom Bennett’s expert advice on dealing with violent pupils, pick up a copy of the magazine. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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