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Teachers fear 'blame game' over pupil misbehaviour, NASUWT conference hears

Teachers are afraid to ask for support to deal with badly behaved pupils because of a “blame game” in which they fear being personally criticised when students misbehave, a conference has heard.

Speaking at the NASUWT union’s annual conference in Cardiff, Jane Setchfield, a science teacher and member of the union’s national executive committee, said some schools had an “endemic” culture that “seeks to cast blame on the teacher when a problem occurs”.

She said those schools had “a culture in which, when an incident occurs and is reported, [senior staff] ask the question of the teacher, ‘what did you do to provoke the inappropriate behaviour?’”

At those schools, she said, teachers were “afraid to report any incidents of verbal or physical abuse” because they feared they would be “blamed for the incident and causing distress to the pupil”.

Speaking to TES after addressing delegates, Ms Setchfield said: “This is not happening in the majority of schools, but it does happen, and it’s difficult for staff.

“In some cases managers don’t want to accept that [poor behaviour] might actually be caused by bigger issues across the whole school, for instance that there aren’t clear rules.

“In order not to accept that they’re at fault, they will blame individual teachers.”

The union today passed a motion that said schools' ability to maintain high standards of behaviour was being "seriously compromised" by an "increasing blame culture" and by cuts to councils' budgets for school support services. 

During the debate on the motion Paul Nesbitt, a West Midlands-based art teacher and member of the union’s national executive committee, said he had seen an increase in the number of incidents in which pupils used “threatening behaviour, abusive language and physical violence” towards teachers.

“Some schools and colleges are continually reluctant to impose the necessary sanctions, including exclusion, to tackle the poor behaviour that exists in schools,” he said.

“This is often because they don’t want to have a bad reputation or they don’t want the local authority to know what’s happening in that school.”

Mr Nesbitt and other teachers used the conference to warn of serious cases in which teachers had been harmed by their students.

He said he had supported staff at a school where a six-year-old boy broke the arm of the deputy headteacher. “It was difficult to speak to four members of staff, who actually cried and broke down [because they] were in fear of their personal safety in the classroom,” he said.

Another teacher “had to be rushed off to [hospital] to have an emergency operation to reattach her finger because one of the students had kicked the door and caught her hand in it,” he said.

“When I spoke to the head, the head was saying, well it is a PRU, [so] what do you expect?

“That’s not protecting our members.”

Teachers were “often too afraid to ask for the appropriate training and support because we’re afraid that this will be used against us in capability procedures that we can’t control our class,” he said.

Dan McCarthy, the union’s national executive member for the Eastern region, said: “I was working in a department where a student stabbed another student in one of the classrooms.

 “We actually had as a school a procedure for that. In that school there was a tannoy system.

“The tannoy system would talk about a Ford Escort, and depending on how certain numbers were said about that Ford Escort’s lights being on, staff knew how to react in different ways.

“But I’m asking you, in your school is there an emergency protocol?”

Shaun Cooper, a teacher representing the union’s Perth and Kinross association, told the conference: “The factors that have been highlighted, especially the blame game of focussing on teachers, saying ‘what did you do to cause this’, is the wrong way to look at it.

“Within our local authority, incidents of violent aggression have doubled in the past three to four years.

“It’s strange that in the past three to four years resources, support staff and specially trained staff have been very subtly and surreptitiously removed so class teachers are having to integrate and include children who should be getting additional support but they’re not.”

Fred Brown, an NASUWT national executive member representing Northern Ireland, told delegates he had visited a school at which a teacher had complained that she was facing “sexual innuendo” from male students.

Mr Brown said: “The headteacher’s response was, well, that’s boys for you. If you get management taking that sort of approach, how can you expect the kids not to behave badly?”

It comes after figures published by the NASUWT, NUT and Association of Teachers and Lecturers unions revealed teachers had received more than £27m in compensation payments after being physically or psychologically harmed or discriminated against at work. 

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