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Teachers see rise in abusive behaviour

The number of teachers calling a support helpline for advice on dealing with abusive or misbehaving pupils has risen by 45 per cent in one year, recent data from the Teacher Support Network shows.

A total of 368 callers turned to the helpline for assistance with discipline problems in 2004, compared with 253 in 2003. The survey, conducted by the charity, also revealed that 84 per cent of teachers have been verbally abused by pupils, with abuse ranging from swearing and backchat to threats of violence. Twenty per cent said that they had been physically assaulted in the classroom, and 38 per cent had had their personal property vandalised. Of those who experienced verbal abuse, 22 per cent said that it happened every day. More than 60 per cent said that pupil aggression was forcing them to consider leaving the profession.

Patrick Nash, chief executive of Teacher Support Network, said: "Teachers will not accept disruption, indiscipline and abuse from pupils. "As a result of non-existent or ineffectual codes of conduct or zero tolerance policies, teachers often feel isolated and lacking support, while at the same time sections of society blame teachers for poor discipline. In the long-term, this can cause severe stress and lack of confidence."

New teachers are often targeted by troublemakers. Caroline, 25, a newly qualified art teacher from Manchester, who preferred not to give her surname, said: "As an NQT, you still need to build a reputation, so pupils challenge you.

"They'll swear in the middle of class. You feel threatened. You need to show them you're not to be messed with."

Ray Wilkinson, of Victim Support, adds that while new teachers are often targeted by abusive pupils, they can be tempted to conceal any incidents from senior management. "Teachers can be embarrassed by classroom violence and see it as a professional failing," he said. "But having support from people they know is extremely important in getting them back on the road to recovery."

Victim Support has launched a new course to help teachers support colleagues who have been victims of classroom violence. The course, made up of two half-day sessions, will include group discussions, classroom testimonies, and role-play exercises.

Fiona Richmond, who set up the programme, said: "A single event can affect how someone works, how they sleep. They can lose their appetite and start having headaches. They can withdraw from colleagues and take anger out on their nearest and dearest.

"People need to be aware of the impacts of classroom abuse and learn how to deal with the emotional impacts."

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