What keeps me awake at night: who will speak up for abused teachers?

15th November 2015 at 07:04
Pupil violence towards teachers
One teacher worries about the epidemic in student violence towards school staff

Vincent Uzomah. Have you heard of him? If you haven’t, it wouldn’t be a surprise. Apart from a few unremarkable news bulletins, his recent stabbing at the hands of a disgruntled pupil at Dixons Kings Academy in Bradford has been largely ignored, even though it should serve as a wake-up call for a complacent profession and an indifferent public.

According to the most recent figures, there were 17,190 fixed-term exclusions for physical assault on an adult and 50,630 for threatening behaviour towards an adult in 2012-13. Only 920 pupils, however, were permanently excluded for similar offences during the same period.

What do these disturbing statistics tell us? Well, not only do they highlight the fact that violence in our schools is endemic, they also, on closer inspection, show why the phenomenon is so widespread.

Every year, tens of thousands of children either threaten or assault their teachers, yet the vast majority are allowed back into school after a fixed-term exclusion. Only a tiny minority are permanently excluded, and the number of exclusions permitted before a permanent exclusion is issued is infinite.

So where is the disincentive? Violent pupils are, in reality, being granted a short holiday for attacking a member of staff before being invited back to resume their education. There is no deterrent. On the contrary, there seems to be a perverse incentive to be violent.

And I suspect these statistics represent the tip of a rather large iceberg. Many schools, including mine, do not even issue fixed-term exclusions for violent behaviour, especially if the perpetrator pulls on the head’s heart strings with a hard luck story which divests him or her of any meaningful responsibility. So you could perhaps double these figures to get the real picture.

We really do need to wake up to what’s going on. Mr Uzomah’s fate may be rare, but it’s an extreme example of the violence that many teachers face, in many schools, on a day-to-day basis. Teachers have truly become the 21st-century equivalents of 19th-century factory workers. Where are today’s indignant, impassioned social reformers?

Joe Baron is a history teacher in London


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