pound;250,000 for attack that ended career

6th February 2009 at 00:00
Teacher gets near-record pay-out five years after 13-year-old pupil left her with lasting physical and psychological scars

A teacher is to be awarded about pound;250,000 in compensation after a violent attack by a pupil ended her career in the classroom.

Sharon Lewis was jumped on, put in a headlock and pushed to the floor in an incident at Woodlands Special School in Nottingham. It has left her with long-term physical and psychological scars.

The 13-year-old attacker, who had a history of violence and had punched another teacher in a separate attack, received only a one-day temporary exclusion for his actions.

Just 26 at the time of the attack, Miss Lewis - now 31 - is waiting to hear whether the payout will be pound;230,000 or pound;280,000. It will be one of the highest sums paid to a teacher by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, the NASUWT union has revealed.

A pound;402,000 payment to a Sheffield teacher attacked by a pupil is believed to be the only higher settlement.

Miss Lewis, who described her attack as a "shocking, frightening experience", is calling for zero- tolerance to violence against teachers. "I'm not angry at the pupil who did it," she said. "I'm angry at a system where encountering violence is now an expectation of the job. That is very wrong and it frustrates me.

"If we don't instil the consequences of violent behaviour, we are not doing young people any favours."

Miss Lewis, who is training to be a counsellor, suffered nerve damage in her left shoulder during the attack, causing numbness and tingling in her neck, arm and leg. She spent three days in hospital, and still suffers from physical pain and post-traumatic stress, leaving her prone to panic and anxiety attacks.

"Even now when I see a young person in the street, I can panic," she said. "It is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life. There is no way I can go back into a classroom. I was just start starting out when this happened. I thought I would be teaching until I retired and now it's just gone."

She was attacked by a pupil with recognised emotional and behavioural problems.

"For a pupil with difficulties, it's really important they have a safe environment in which they feel happy," she said.

"But there have to be boundaries so it's safe for the people who work with them."

Miss Lewis said she was pleased the impact of the event on her life had been recognised.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, criticised the length of the compensation process.

"The system is very heavily weighted against victims, and in this case the authority twice refused to accept that this was even an assault," she said. "The greatest tragedy is that people's chosen careers are ended and good teachers are lost to the profession."

Ms Keates said violence against staff was a particular issue in special schools. She also criticised a growing acceptance of verbal assaults against staff, which she said too often led to physical attacks.

Victims of violence

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority can pay up to pound;500,000 to victims of violent crime, but personal injury awards to teachers have sometimes exceeded this sum.

A science teacher from King Edward VI Grammar School in Lincolnshire received pound;625,000 in 2007 after being left permanently disabled by an electric shock he received in while working in his lab.

The most recent figures, published last year, show that teachers received more than pound;20 million in the previous 12 months for work-related injuries, assaults and employment disputes.

Teachers' leaders have criticised the cap on criminal injury payments, which they say can effectively punish the most seriously hurt staff.

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