A huge backlog of cases is slowing compensation claims lodged by teachers who have been violently attacked by pupils or parents. Some victims are having to wait up to five years for redress.
"The system is swamped," says John Reynolds, South-east regional official for the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. "The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority seems to be running several years behind."
One teacher on Mr Reynolds's casebook who was assaulted by a pupil in 1993 has only just been compensated. She received neck injuries after being pushed backwards over a desk and was forced to give up teaching.
The CICA admits there is a backlog of claims filed before 1996 which are still being handled by the old Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. It hopes these cases will be settled by the year 2000.
But the unions remain dissatisfied. "This is not much consolation if you are one of the claimants who has been waiting years for compensation," says Martin Fisher, a regional official for the National Union of Teachers.
The CICA is hoping that a new system of compensation will speed up the process. The Tariff Scheme, introduced in 1996, aims to provide quicker settlements to claimants based on fixed rates of compensation (see box right). Instead of assessing each injury individually, the CICA now uses the "list" to decide the size of awards.
When first mooted, the scheme caused outrage because it was believed that the size of awards would plummet. The Home Office estimated that the cost of the old scheme would be pound;550 million a year by 2000, compared with pound;200 million under the Tariff Scheme.
The recent award of only pound;18,500 to Josie Russell, the Kent schoolgirl who survived a ferocious attack two years ago when her mother and sister were killed, has borne out the worst fears of the scheme's critics.
Martin Fisher, of the NUT, says there are unacceptable delays, even under the new scheme. While straightforward claims now take about a year to settle instead of two, more complex and serious cases are still taking several years to resolve.
In such cases, teachers will be claiming for lost earnings because they have been so badly injured or traumatised by an assault that they may be off work for more than a year, or they may never be able to teach in a school again.
Teachers may also face a protracted battle to win compensation if the attack is directed at a part of the body that has been injured before. They then have to prove that the old injury was completely healed before the assault occurred.
Last year the NASUWT represented 42 assault victims while the NUT handled 26 cases. But union officials point out that many assaults do not lead to compensation claims. Some teachers do not make claims because their headteachers are reluctant to involve the police, fearing that the school's reputation will be damaged.
John Reynolds is advising a teacher who suffered a whiplash injury after he was thumped in the back by a pupil, but the headteacher has refused to involve the police. "The teacher is afraid to report the attack himself because he lives in the community served by the school, and the pupil's family live just round the corner," Mr Reynolds explains.
Other teachers are loath to report assaults because they feel it is an admission that they failed to manage a situation properly, according to an NASUWT spokesperson. "And some of our members decide not to proceed with cases because they don't wish to cause their assailant any more distress or difficulties," he adds.
The Tariff Scheme:what you could expect to receive
Partial deafness pound;3,500 Fractured ankle (full recovery) pound;3,000 Punctured lung pound;3,000 Dislocated jaw pound;2,000 Head injury (scarring visible but no significant disfigurement) pound;1,500