Tales of teachers suffering miscarriages after being assaulted by pupils have struck fear into the hearts of many female teachers. The story of Amy Blackburn, who was assaulted in a north London school several years ago, is one of a handful of incidents that have cast an unforgiving light on the government's policy of keeping troublemakers in school rather than expelling them.
Pregnant secondary teacher Georgia McLeod* is one of those who face the fear of being assaulted. Her school's senior management team (SMT) recently told her that a violent pupil would be moved into her already ample-sized class.
"The boy in question is a bit of a wild child and he will 'blow up' for no reason," she says. "He already assaulted my colleague and received a two-week suspension. I told the SMT that I did not want to teach him, but I was told there were no other options."
Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, is extremely concerned about Mrs McLeod's situation. "It is concerning and disappointing, yet not surprising, that a teacher has to take action herself to protect her welfare rather than the employer being proactive," she says. "This is symptomatic of the lack of concern exhibited in some schools for the welfare of staff and the scant regard paid to legal duties and responsibilities."
According to Dan Fawcett, solicitor at Bond Pearce LLP, every employer - whether it be the school itself or the local education authority - is obliged to carry out risk assessments on any employee whose health status could have an impact on their work.
"Once the school is informed that the employee is pregnant, the SMT must carry out a specific risk assessment. One of the risks it should consider is the possibility of an assault," he says. "The school has a duty to do all that is reasonable to prevent exposure to this risk - if it does not do this it is failing in its duty of care."
The school also needs to comply with health and safety legislation, which would require it to carry out a risk assessment on the pupil in question in relation to the safety and welfare of all staff.
"There should be no debate about this in the school," says Mrs Keates. "This process should be undertaken immediately and if there is any doubt, then the teacher should be removed from the risk. The teacher should not be facing stress and pressure to secure a reasonable response from the employer to protect herself and her unborn child."
If the appropriate changes do not occur after the risk assessment has been carried out, you should start by raising a grievance internally. "Write a letter setting out your situation," says Mr Fawcett. "What has been done so far and which further measures can be taken. If the school cannot make the necessary arrangements, the SMT must offer the teacher suitable alternative work. If it is unable to, it is obliged to suspend her until after her maternity leave or until the violent child no longer poses a threat."
Deborah Mayer, who taught during two of her pregnancies at a secondary school in East Sheen, southwest London, suggests pushing for the permanent exclusion of the pupil in question, depending on when the alleged offences on other staff occurred.
"A two-week suspension for assaulting a member of staff is not satisfactory," she says. "The school is sending a simple message - 'attack a teacher and you will be rewarded with two weeks off school'. That is how many of the children see it. In schools where the child won't get away with it, they will very rarely do it. In a school where the teacher is somehow perceived to be at fault, the child will act out again."
If the school fails to make appropriate arrangements, Mr Fawcett suggests taking legal action. "If the teacher feels as though she has been subjected to unlawful detriment, she should contact a lawyer," says Mr Fawcett. "An employee who has suffered detrimental treatment because she is pregnant is protected under a range of statutory provisions."
*Name has been changed
- Next week accusations of racism
- Ensure a risk assessment has been done.
- Raise a grievance internally by writing a letter to the senior management team.
- Contact your union representative and GP.
- Expose yourself to stress and pressure to secure a reasonable response from the school.