War on teacher attacks

12th February 1999 at 00:00
'Responsibility of parents and pupils to see that there is zero tolerance of this kind of behaviour'

THE Scottish Office has signalled its serious concern over assaults on school staff, publishing detailed figures for the first time and promising action.

Education authorities reported 743 attacks on teachers and non-teachers during 1997-98. This represents 122 acts of violence for every 100,000 pupils. Police were notified on 109 occasions and victims were absent for a total of 62 working days.

Ken Wimbor, assistant secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said he was "genuinely appalled" at the figures. From cases processed through his office, he would have expected no more than a couple of hundred.

The likelihood of under-reporting and the failure of some authorities to submit returns suggested the picture was even worse. "In addition there is such pressure on teachers, not least from negative media coverage, that some feel it reflects badly on them if they report incidents of violence."

Helen Liddell, the Education Minister, chose to give the issue high prominence when she announced a new training package to help staff manage difficult and disruptive behaviour.

But she said during a visit to Arkleston primary in Renfrew: "It is the responsibility of parents and pupils to see that there is zero tolerance of this kind of behaviour. Training programmes can help but the major responsibility lies with parents and pupils."

The figures do not confirm reports from Glasgow at the end of last year in which the Educational Institute of Scotland alleged that parents were harassing and intimidating primary teachers.

The overwhelming incidents of violence, involving 592 out of the 743 cases, were committed by pupils currently in the school and only 90 by parents. There were 399 incidents of violence, 355 cases of verbal abuse and 10 reports of damage to personal property. Nearly half were in primary schools.

The most recent incident before Christmas involved a teacher at Tulloch primary in Perth who was attacked by a primary 3 pupil and suffered a staved hand and bruising. The boy was suspended and readmitted but has now been excluded again following an incident involving a non-teaching member of staff two weeks ago. A multidisciplinary case conference has been called.

The Perth case highlights the need for caution in interpreting the statistics because incidents may involve the same pupil on more than one occasion or more than one pupil. Several authorities, accounting for a fifth of all pupils, did not supply information.

Although the Scottish Office acknowledges these health warnings, there will none the less be some comfort taken from the finding that only 24 incidents involved outsiders. The Scottish Office introduced a pound;30 million three-year spending programme to step up school security in the wake of the Dunblane shootings.

David Eaglesham, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, expressed surprise at the low incidence of cases involving parents and the public but said it would take several years to put the figures into perspective. Mr Eaglesham urged particular caution over figures from special schools where 207 incidents were reported, against 178 in secondaries.

"Assaults or intimidation against special school staff stem from clinical problems rather than bad behaviour which staff are trained to deal with." They were not the result of "some malaise in the system".

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