Questions without an answer

30th January 2004 at 00:00
he annual barney over the statistics on violence against school staff has come round again. Are schools under-reporting? Are schools over-reporting? Are schools mis-reporting? Are education authorities in the dark over school reporting? Are the figures going up because there is now a "reporting culture" or are they going up because pupil behaviour is going from bad to worse?

While Fiona Hyslop of the SNP has a point when she draws attention to the series of ministerial "initiatives" that has greeted each year's rising figures (page five), the answer to all these questions is that we just do not know. There will, of course, always be some political knockabout on the contribution Government policies make to the statistics - so long as they are rising. But it does nobody any favours to have the Executive minimising the "one incident per school every two and a half years" and the Tories spinning that a teacher is "assaulted" every 12 minutes.

The use of the word "assault" begs a key question. What is a violent incident? The phrase is intended to cover threatening behaviour as well as actual assault. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that an invitation to "sod off" may be regarded as violence by one teacher - but not by another.

So the point is that Mr Peacock is right to want to know more, but the outcome must be to bring consistency to the figures through improved guidelines. The emphasis has to shift soon from the accuracy of the reporting to the incidence of the violence.

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