As assaults on teachers spiral, Karen Thornton reports on one particularly vicious beating at an inner-city primary
A PRIMARY head this week spoke of her sense of failure after being hit eight times around the face by a parent in a potentially fatal attack.
The 45-year-old woman feels so ashamed of the incident, even though she was the victim, that she does not want to reveal her real name.
She was attacked by a mother angry that her eight-year-old son had been temporarily excluded for holding a knife to the throat of a classmate.
The police were called and the mother cautioned. But it was the lack of support from her local authority, rather than the assault, which led "Mary Jones" to consider leaving teaching altogether. Despite pleas for help, she was left to arrange a ban on her attacker from the school herself - and to deal with her again when she arrived on the premises.
A rising number of heads are suffering a similar fate, according to the National Association of Head Teachers. Next week, at its annual conference in Harrogate, the association will reveal figures showing an increase in assaults on its members. Last year, an NAHT survey revealed that thousands of heads had experienced problems with violent and abusive parents.
As The TES reported this month ("Assaults boost pound;6m compensation bill", May 11) a rising tide of attacks has led to a record pound;6 million pay-out last year to teacher victims of accidents and assaults.
Staff had to cope with aggressive parents and pupils almost daily at the tough inner-city London primary school where Ms Jones was previously head for four years.
She was bitten "almost to the bone" by a five-year-old hile removing him from a classroom. On another occasion, a friend asked about scratches on her neck inflicted by a child. She had forgotten they were there, because such incidents were so common.
The mother of the excluded eight-year-old had come to the school intending to attack her, said Ms Jones. She knows, because the son told her so afterwards. "She had been throwing things around and screaming and shouting. She took one look at me and hit me about eight times around the face. She was jabbing up my nose in such a way that if she had connected, it would have been fatal because it would have driven the nose cartilage into my brain.
"It happened very quickly but it took some time for people to calm her down. I couldn't calm her down, and I felt impotent because that was my usual job."
After the woman was arrested, Ms Jones carried on with a staff interview before seeking medical attention from her GP, who advised her her health was at serious risk. She was signed off for two weeks, but took just a day.
Support from the NAHT and colleagues, and an understanding of the difficulties for parents kept her going.
"A lot of the parents had been anti-school in their youth and saw having a crack at the head as somehow winning against the system. For a lot of them, it was the only power they had - single parents, poverty-stricken. But even understanding all that, it's hard not to take it personally."
Ms Jones moved out of the capital after the attack two years ago, and says her new job has restored her faith in education. Now she is "a lot more nervous" around parents, and advises her staff not to meet parents alone when discussing difficult issues.