THE problem of teachers being bullied by pupils is more pervasive than generally accepted and could be contributing to stress-related illnesses, according to new research.
More than half of 101 secondary teachers surveyed said they had been bullied by pupils at least once in the preceding term, and nearly 10 per cent reported several incidents a week.
Less-experienced teachers reported most incidents and female teachers were less likely to report being bullied than men.
Andy Terry, the part-time music teacher and Keele University PhD student who carried out the research, said it probably underestimated the scale of the problem.
"It is perceived as a loss of professional self-esteem. If you are a young teacher trying to make your mark, it's going to be extremely difficult to come to terms with being bullied by pupils - and make it even harder to admit there is a problem," he said.
Mr Terry is now investigating bullying patterns to see if teachers who are bullied retaliate and bully their pupils.
More than one in three replies from teachers in seven urban high schools in the North Midlands admitted actions which pupils might have construed as bullying. The figure rose to 51 per cent among teachers who reported being bullied themselves at least once that term.
Teachers cited instances of bullying ranging from insults to the theft of personal belongings from school and being harassed at home by pupils knocking on doors and windows. Nearly 30 per cent of victims had suffered bullying off school premises.
Most teachers (85 per cent) said they knew at least one colleague who had been bullied by pupils, with more than half (57.5 per cent) saying they knew of three or more victims.
Younger or less experienced teachers seem more susceptible to abuse by pupils, with 68 per cent of those with less than three years' experience at a school reporting abuse once or more a term - compared to only 49 per cent of their more experienced colleagues.
The research concedes that teachers' authority makes them improbable victims of bullying.
But their authority can be undermined by pupils with no respect for maturity, by their own unfamiliarity with a new school's discipline structures, by weak school management, or by aggressive parents who "intrude" into the school.
The paper concludes: "As an additional stress factor for teachers, there may be significant implications for future legal redress, if bully-abuse by pupils could be established as an intrinsic part of such medical difficulties."
Teachers as Targets of Bullying By Their Pupils is available from Andrew Perry, psychology department, Keele University, Staffs.