The head of NSPCC Scotland has said teachers can play a vital role in supporting vulnerable children, as a report by the charity found nearly one in five secondary school children in the UK have been severely abused or neglected during childhood.
The research revealed that 18.6 per cent of 11-17 year olds had been physically attacked by an adult, sexually abused, or severely neglected at home. Parents or guardians were responsible for 55 per cent of serious adult violence towards this age group. A total of 4,036 young people and young adults, including 303 in Scotland, were surveyed for the NSPCC research, which was carried out in 2009.
NSPCC Scotland head Matt Forde said: "Teachers in Scotland are well placed to pick up on signs of abuse and neglect. Teachers don't need the added responsibility of being social workers, but the reality is that they have much more frequent contact with children than social workers do."
A child's teacher might be the only trusted adult outside the family, and the difference they made could be transformational if a child is suffering in their home life, Mr Forde said.
The survey's findings signalled an urgent need for a shift to earlier intervention, "so that vulnerable children are reached and supported before harm is done".
However, according to the research, many children were now treated less harshly than in previous generations, Mr Forde said. The Scottish Government had taken steps to improve child protection and there was now heightened awareness about what child abuse is and how to counter it.
The way professional services work together had also improved, Mr Forde added, but the penalty for not taking action to prevent abuse was "unaffordable for our communities".
"Failing to address early abuse and neglect feeds through to our education services further down the line," he said. "It always has a later cost."