Know your rights

28th March 2003 at 00:00
Too many teachers suffer attacks from pupils or parents. Susannah Kirkman explains how to deal with them

Figures from the Department for Education and Skills show that the number of serious assaults on teachers has fallen, but classroom violence is still a real concern, claim the unions.

If you have been physically injured, get a medical assessment of the injury as soon as possible. A doctor's report can be important evidence if you later pursue compensation or decide to prosecute your assailant. If your injuries last for more than six weeks, you are entitled to claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, but only if the police recognise an assault has been committed.

Inform your local Department for Work and Pensions office if your injury is more than superficial; you will be able to claim for disablement benefit if necessary. Make sure the school has made a formal record of the incident, and inform your union.

Unions say schools should immediately suspend pupils who have attacked teachers, and deal with the them through the disciplinary system. You should not be required to teach a pupil who has assaulted you, although you have no contractual right to refuse. The school should consider informing the police. They are often reluctant to prosecute unless the injuries are serious, but they may give the pupil a formal warning.

If you are assaulted by a parent, the head should inform the police and write your assailant a letter warning that such behaviour is unacceptable.

The parent should not be permitted to enter the school premises again without an appointment. If any do, and create another disturbance, they can be prosecuted for trespass. Local authorities can force violent parents to attend counselling, or face court and a pound;1,000 fine, but the Association of Teachers and Lecturers says it has not heard of any LEA doing this.

Teachers are often encouraged to remain silent about an assault as heads are worried about the school's reputation. The ATL says it has often been forced to pursue private prosecutions on behalf of members whose employers have been reluctant to take action.

The DfES has recently toughened up its guidance for independent appeal panels to prevent them from reinstating violent pupils. Panels must include a teacher and balance the interests of the excluded pupil against the interests of the school community, and cannot reinstate a pupil on a technicality.

Schools should train teachers to deal with challenging behaviour from pupils and difficult parents. There should be clear procedures for reporting and investigating incidents, and the teacher concerned should be offered support and counselling.

The DfES's A Legal Toolkit for Schools: tackling abuse, threats and violence towards members of the school community can be ordered free on 0845 602 2260

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