Headteachers want the Government to take more action to stop aggressive parents from bullying their children's teachers.
The call for increased protection - at the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference in Torquay earlier this month - is a response to growing levels of violence against teachers.
But it is local education authorities and governing bodies, rather than the Government, that are responsible for the safety of school employees. Health and safety regulations require employers to carry out risk assessments, and to do everything that is reasonably practicable to minimise perceived risks.
Heads and governing bodies should not only consider threats of actual injury, but also the potential damage to teachers' mental health and welfare if they are, for example, subjected to continuous verbal abuse. The Health and Safety Executive exhorts schools to combat the risk of violence. One suggestion is that schools should draw up a written plan of action. This should begin with an explicit commitment to take positive action, and to be fully supportive of staff who have been victims - followed by a survey of potential problems (a risk assessment), the formal system of recording incidents, developing a preventive strategy, and the methods of monitoring the plan's effectiveness.
Attention should be paid to the lay-out of the premises and their security, the pooling of information, and staff training in how to deal with aggression. Many schools also have arrangements for involving the police.
Parents have a right to enter school premises for legitimate reasons. But if they are intent on being a nuisance, the head, under delegated powers from the LEA or governing body, is empowered to order them off the premises, and even to remove them with "reasonable force". However, it may well be better to send for the police.
They have powers to support the school in these instances. They can prosecute even in minor cases of nuisance, or if there is a breach of the peace, or conduct likely to cause such a breach. Where an assault has occurred, or where someone is put in immediate fear of personal injury, it is a criminal offence, but one which is usually prosecuted by the victim rather than the police.
If a staff member is injured in an assault they have a right to seek compensation either through civil action, which depends on the other person's ability to pay, or through their employer's insurance, or via the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.
Teacher victims can expect to be assisted fully by their union. Many LEAs also offer legal assistance and accept that absence from work caused by criminal injury should not count against sick-leave entitlement.
* The HSC booklet Violence to Staff in the Education Sector is published by HSE Books. Health and Safety Enquiry Line: 08701 545 500.
Chris Lowe is honorary legal consultant to the Secondary Heads Association and editor of Croners School Governors' Manual