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Attacks on teachers fall by 40 per cent

Violent attacks on teachers have fallen by more than 40 per cent over the past eight years, according to Home Office statistics.

The finding undermine claims by teaching unions that violent behaviour is spiralling out of control in the classroom.

Statistics from the British Crime Survey, the most authoritative snapshot of crime nationwide, indicate that between 1994 and 1997 around 1.8 per cent of teachers were physically assaulted at work. By 2002 and 2003, the proportion had dropped to 1 per cent.

Verbal threats against teachers also fell during the same periods from 2 per cent to 1.2 per cent.

The findings of the Home Office survey, which was based on a representative sample of 40,000 people, appear to be at odds with research by teachers'


A recent survey by the National Union of Teachers suggested that almost one in three teachers suffered some form of physical assault each year.

A survey by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, which has campaigned to protect teachers from assult, suggests that a teacher in the Eastern Counties of England was attacked every seven minutes last year. Union officials argued that the figure was representative of the national picture.

If the Home Office figures are extrapolated in a similar way, however, they suggest that a teacher in England and Wales is attacked every 20 minutes.

John Bangs, head of education for the NUT, said that the British Crime Survey might paint a narrower picture than the union polls because it did not deal exclusively with teachers.

However, he said that pupils had grown more cautious about physically attacking teachers or threatening them because of stricter anti-violence policies in schools and the widespread use of closed-circuit television cameras.

"This doesn't mean that teachers aren't facing more abuse from pupils," he said.

Though teachers faced a higher-than-average risk of attack at work, the Home Office research showed that other groups of workers were more likely to face assault. Nurses were three times and transport workers twice as likely to be attacked. Managers and proprietors in agriculture and in service industries were also at higher risk than teachers.

The threat of verbal or physical abuse has dropped significantly for all groups since 1994 but most of all for teachers.

Research by Professor Peter Smith, head of the unit for school and family studies at Goldsmiths College, London, which looked at perspectives on violence across Europe, found that other countries had a similar "perception gap" between actual and perceived levels of aggression in schools.

In Germany, a study found, people believed that violence in schools was getting worse but researchers had been unable to produce evidence that this was so.


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