Pressure to cut exclusions 'puts teachers at risk of violence'

The push to reduce school exclusions in Scotland is leading to a rise in physical assaults against teachers, union warns

Emma Seith

The pressure to reduce exclusions is putting teachers at risk of physical assault, the SSTA union warns

The drive to reduce exclusion rates in schools is putting “tremendous pressure on teachers” and leading to an increase in violence against staff, according to the general secretary of a teaching union.

In his address to the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) annual congress this afternoon, Seamus Searson will reveal that a survey of over 1,000 teachers shows that almost one in five has experienced physical assault.

The survey also reveals that 70 per cent had experienced serious verbal abuse and 60 per cent had experienced threatening or menacing behaviour.

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However, according to Mr Searson – who is advising SSTA members to report all threatening or violent incidents to the police – teachers and heads feel unsupported because of “the constant statistical drive to reduce permanent and temporary exclusions”

This afternoon he will call on councils and the Scottish government to put “money into ASN (additional support needs) to address the needs of pupils and support teachers”. According to Mr Searson, pupils with complex needs are becoming “frustrated and disillusioned” and hitting out at teachers and support staff because they are not getting the help they need.

Pressure to avoid school exclusions

Earlier this week, the Scottish government announced that it would investigate why the proportion of ASN pupils with legally binding support plans was falling.  

One respondent to the SSTA survey said that if pupils had social, emotional and behavioural needs, it was “expected that you will be assaulted” and that some women wore long-sleeved or baggy clothing “so that their partners wouldn't see the physical marks on their body and then go to the school/council on their wife's behalf”.

Another said that violent and aggressive behaviour in their school was “explained away, rather than dealt with” and the stock response from school managers was: “What you have to understand is this child has issues."

In his speech to congress, Mr Searson will say: “Headteachers and teachers reported feeling unsupported in trying to maintain good discipline and order in schools. The constant statistical drive to reduce permanent and temporary exclusions is putting tremendous pressures on schools, its teachers and other education support staff.

“Exclusion has come to be seen as evidence that the headteacher, the teachers and the school are failing the pupils, when in reality it is showing that schools, following years of staffing and funding cuts, are unable to meet the needs of all their pupils in the schools all of the time.”

Tes Scotland revealed last year that Scottish schools had all but wiped out permanent exclusions, with just one pupil removed from the register in 2016-17, as compared with 60 pupils in 2010 and 248 pupils a decade ago in 2006-07.

The number of temporary exclusions has also plummeted in recent years – although there are concerns that schools are “developing other strategies that effectively exclude students from the mainstream classroom”.

A survey of parents of autistic pupils last year found that unlawful exclusion was widespread and autistic children were being sent home from Scottish schools multiple times a week, but not formally excluded.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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