Violence is a fact of life for most teachers

21st September 2001 at 01:00
Half of the country's classrooms see an incident every week, a new survey has revealed. Paul Sanderson reports

Violence in the classroom has become a routine part of working life for most teachers - and it is just as likely to happen in Bournemouth as in Bristol.

A University of Warwick study found that almost half of the staff surveyed see threats of violence from one pupil to another at least once a week; a further 20 per cent see such incidents monthly.

The authors of the report, produced for the National Union of Teachers, questioned 2,575 teachers in state and private schools in England and Wales.

A quarter of these experience violent threats from pupils in the course of a year. Eight per cent face threats from parents at least once a term.

Damage to teachers' property, including cars, is also common: one in five teachers reported damage to their property on a monthly basis, with nearly one in 10 saying they suffer every week.

A fifth of teachers see offensive weapons in school at least once a year and a fifth observe pupils with drugs once or more in the course of a term.

A female primary teacher who took part in the survey said: "I have been kicked, punched, and bitten on a regular weekly basis by a pupil in my class who has severe emotional and behavioural problems."

Another primary teacher said: "I have the right to work without being abused. In industry it wouldn't be accepted yet day after day it is now just 'part of the job'."

One male teacher described his experience: "I had malicious verbal threats and intimidation from past pupils out on the streets. They stole my car and taunted me, saying 'What are you going to fucking do about it?'."

But, for most staff, low-level disturbances are the biggest cause of disrupted lessons. Almost 85 per cent experience inappropriate interruptions from pupils each week and 70 per cent complain of pupils answering back. Nearly two-thirds report hearing offensive language every week.

The union is calling on the Government to recommend to schools that existing guidelines, outlining types of disruption, be explicitly stated as criteria schools can use for permanent exclusion.

This would mean children would be excluded automatically for serious violence or threats of violence against another pupil or member of staff; sexual abuse; selling illegal drugs; and persistent and malicious disruptive behaviour.

The NUT also believes bullying, including homophobic bullying, and assaulting other students should lead to exclusion.

It argues that, to accommodate these difficult pupils, all local education authorities should establish more places at special, day and residential schools.

The union is also calling for heads to be given the right to refer young people for a full assessment of special needs prior to being admitted to their school if they believe the child has serious emotional and behavioural difficulties.

John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, said: "It's absolutely obvious that pupil behaviour has got worse over the years, and that the Government has not acknowledged this.

"Ministers have just put in place measures to deal with some aspects of pupil behaviour, but they still think they can run a social inclusion policy on the cheap.

"Pupil behaviour is a critical influence on whether many teachers stay in the profession."

He said the survey showed that it was not just in tough inner-city schools that violence was a problem. He said: "Our evidence suggests it's as tough in Bournemouth as it is in Bristol. But you are not as likely to get support in Bournemouth as you are in inner-city areas like Islington.

"It is unacceptable that teachers are experiencing regular damage to their property. Over 37 per cent of teachers in Bristol and 32 per cent in Middlesbrough are seeing their property damaged on a weekly basis.

"These are unexpected and disturbing figures. Teachers should work in an environment where their property is respected."

But the Government has no plans to alter exclusion criteria. A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said: "The School Standards and Framework Act Amendment from September 1, 1999, states that schools have to have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance for school exclusions. There are no plans to change that."

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