Must I be the fall guy?

7th October 2005 at 01:00
A vicious attack by a pupil has led a teacher to ask whether schools' whole approach to the problem of classroom violence is deeply flawed.

At the end of the first week of this session, I sustained a crazed and violent assault by a pupil with a previous record of violence against staff. The pupil was subject to exclusion processing earlier that morning, but the senior staff member handling this had been unable to contact a parent. Others in the class conspired to bring the assailant into my classroom, I assume for a bit of sport.

I have extensive experience of industry and military operations around the world and am just at the start of bringing what I hope will be the benefit of that experience to children through education. From that experience, I have learnt of the duty of care that those responsible for any organisation have towards its people and others who could reasonably expect to go about their business without risk of harm.

Following the assault, I asked that a risk assessment be carried out on a small number of pupils, including the assailant and those I considered to be involved in the serious disruption in and about that particular class.

I expected my request to kick off a standard procedure of some kind, involving multiple agencies: guidance staff who know the pupils, other teachers certainly, perhaps behaviour or other support professionals who have the skills and experience to assess the risk of having these young people in a mainstream class.

I was looking for some assurance that steps would be taken to learn from the experience and that action would be taken to mitigate the risk in three specific and obvious areas: firstly, to the pupils themselves (one pupil was injured in the assault); second, to other pupils enjoying their rightful place in state-funded education; and finally, to staff who come into contact with the subjects of the assessment as part of their employment.

The headteacher's reaction was surprising to me. While expressing concern for my welfare, the head seemed ignorant of risk assessment in any form.

Support was sought from the local authority who sent a representative to offer advice at a meeting between the head, myself and my union representative.

I was told this meeting was to clarify my request, but it quickly became clear that it was to try to limit the scope of any follow-up as narrowly as possible: the expectation was that we would complete a generic form in the meeting. The intention was reinforced when it became apparent that there would not be enough time to do this: despite my protests that the approach was wrong in principle, I was left to complete basic details on the risk assessment forms and submit them to the headteacher.

Weeks later, despite threats of legal action by the union, no risk assessment seems to have been completed and, as far as I can tell, no widening of scope beyond my teaching in my classroom seems to be forthcoming. I am concerned that I may be made the fall guy somehow in all of this, due to my "inexperience as a teacher": I haven't been teaching long but I think that I have evidence that I am good at what I do.

A friend is a senior educator in special provision in the UK and he has given me specific positive advice and directed me towards CPD in assertive discipline. Being a reflective practitioner and always accepting that I can improve on what I do, I have asked the school if I might access this. I was told that it is unlikely on cost grounds.

I am struggling with the establishment and the local authority's reluctance to deal with the issues raised by one incident in one classroom on one day.

In my school, at least one other physical assault on a teacher has taken place since mine: the pupils I have raised the flag on have threatened other staff in the school and continue to cause serious disruption. Instead of isolation and containment, these individuals are protected and rewarded, despite denying me and my other pupils our rights to be safe and productive in a place where we have a right to be.

What I am looking for is mitigation, not litigation. I want to know, and for my pupils to know, that there are boundaries and support in place in the classroom which protect them and allow them to access the education to which they have a right. This is the same right that anyone else has to go about their business without assault, intimidation or impediment. These principles are well established in the legislation. Why is it that education is exempt from these provisions?

The author wishes to remain anonymous.

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