Violence levels revealed

4th February 2011 at 00:00
Cyberbullying is on the rise but class assistants play a key role in managing behaviour, study finds

A new report examining violence in schools highlights the key role played by classroom assistants and behaviour support teachers - at a time when many of these posts are under threat.

The report also identifies a significant rise in cyberbullying of teachers by pupils and of pupils by other pupils, particularly among teenage girls.

Nearly half of 10 to 15-year-olds reported having been a target, and a third of 10 and 11-year-olds said they had received coercive messages.

Violence in UK Schools: what is really happening, published today by the British Educational Research Association, seeks to get beyond the tabloid headlines and give a more accurate picture of discipline problems in schools.

Violent assaults are still very rare in schools, although some teachers reported increases in incidences of pupils carrying weapons. But low-level disruption remains the biggest challenge to teachers' classroom management, says the report.

But its finding that classroom assistants make an important contribution to classroom behaviour will be embarrassing for those authorities who are targeting them in budget cuts.

Pamela Munn, who commissioned the report, said: "Economising on education budgets by reducing the number of classroom assistants could well be a false economy because the consequences might be picked up in other budgets - for example, if there is then an increase in school exclusions."

Professor Munn, emeritus professor at Edinburgh University's Moray House School of Education, said teachers were "extremely positive" about the contribution classroom assistants made to preventing and resolving negative behaviour in the classroom.

She pointed to the value classroom assistants can bring to supporting children with social and emotional problems. "They can give immediate and direct attention to them in a way that the teacher in charge of a big class may not," she said.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said that 55 per cent of secondary schools and 60 per cent of primaries used classroom assistants as part of promoting positive behaviour.

"The Scottish Government-funded Positive Behaviour Team supports schools and teachers through a range of activities aimed improving relationships in the classroom," the spokesman said.

The report, by Jane Brown at the University of Edinburgh and Mandy Winterton of the University of Leeds, found an increase in cyberbullying, particularly among teenage girls.

A fifth of 11 to 16-year-olds said they had sent an intimidating voicemail or text, while 16 per cent had used a mobile phone to photograph or video someone being assaulted.

Despite growing awareness across local authorities, cyberbullying was an area that urgently needed further research, Professor Munn said. Although systems for dealing with it had improved, there needed to be "much more of a focus on prevention".

Overall, around 50 per cent of primary pupils reported that they had been the victims of some form of bullying, compared with 25 per cent of secondary pupils.

The report also emphasises the value of exclusion data in understanding school violence in a wider social context.

"Analysis of information about children excluded from school reveals a great deal about social inequality," the report says.

It highlights that in 2007-2008, 11.7 per cent of excluded pupils came from very deprived areas compared with only 1.5 per cent from more affluent areas.

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