Attack that shattered a life in music

23rd December 1994 at 00:00
Back in December 1994 The TES was reporting on violence against teachers. Have a read of this article and take a view on whether the situation in today's classrooms is better or worse.

Two teachers have been granted record compensation for violence by pupils, but how many are keeping quiet? The TES reports. Douglas Taylor paints an extraordinary picture of his daily working life - fights every day between pupils in classrooms, teenagers running wild in disordered lessons, and regular attacks on teachers.

His matter-of-fact Yorkshire manner makes stories of flying chairs, screaming of obscenities and playground punch-ups appear as if staff at the Marland Fold special school in Oldham thought their ordeal normal.

"It was supposed to be for pupils with moderate learning difficulties, but it took me about three hours there to realise it was more than that. Occasionally, children had to be physically restrained. The violence was horrendous."

That violence cost him not just a career in teaching but his life as a musician- which brought him to the profession - in the top echelons of northern brass bands. Even to pick up one of the scores of records he has made as a band-leader and soloist causes him to wince. A fracture to the spine has caused nerve irritation through his back, arms and legs. He cannot stand or sit for more than a few hours, walk for more than a few minutes, or lift anything heavy. Unable to play an instrument or conduct, he limits himself to teaching the cornet.

Mr Taylor was attacked four years ago this week, while taking a "family group", a lesson of pupils aged 11 to 16, in the 135-pupil school. A 15-year-old pupil burst into the classroom, picked up a chair and threw it at an 11-year-old pupil who was working quietly on a mural. He then pushed past Mr Taylor and grabbed the youngster.

"He was going to pick him up, so I stepped between them and put my hand on his arm. I wanted to get them apart and get the older lad away to calm him down," remembers Mr Taylor. After leading the boy to the staffroom and telling him to wait, he returned to the class to reassure the younger pupil, standing just inside the door, clearly visible from outside through the glass panel. "The lad took off like a bat out of hell and karate-kicked the door," said the teacher.

The metal handle hit Mr Taylor in the lower back between the third and fourth vertebrae, cracking the spine. He was taken to hospital, doubled up in agony and sent home with pain-killers. Three weeks later, after spending most of the Christmas holiday in bed barely able to move, Mr Taylor collapsed in the same classroom. This time he was unable to get up. Surgeons not only found a break, but complications which worsened existing sciatica.

When it was clear he would never work again, Mr Taylor's union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (then called the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association) urged him to report the attack to the police, in the face of "reluctance" by the school. This put in place a bureaucratic treadmill which two weeks ago ended in the Pounds 88,500 award from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

But although he will be able to pay off the mortgage on his Halifax home, the money will not compensate for the loss. "What I will miss is the pleasure of playing golf with my friends and enjoying the standard of music I have been involved with for 50 years. Eighty-eight million wouldn't compensate me for that."

Mr Taylor's pedigree as a musician stretches back four generations. In 1955 he joined the Brighouse and Rastrick band, playing cornet on their 1960s hit "The Floral Dance". This involvement enabled him to give up a job in a carpet factory to teach brass instruments. He later took a teaching qualification at London University and worked in a Bedford school, specialising in maths for lower ability groups.

But he was unprepared for Marland Fold. "How can you teach a class when someone is running wild and having a punch-up in the corner? The verbal abuse was so bad a teacher would only intervene if it became physical or so noisy the others couldn't work." He is convinced teachers should have more powers to control unruly children, including physical punishment.

His attacker was not brought before the courts. Four years on, Greater Manchester police cannot say even if he was cautioned. But Mr Taylor bears no personal resentment. "If it wasn't him it would have been someone else. His problems should have been sorted out a long time before he was 15."

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