When you work with children with behavioural difficulties, unruliness is the norm. But after being repeatedly attacked, these teachers went on strike

21st January 2011 at 00:00

All teachers and classroom assistants at a school for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties took the unusual step of striking over pupil violence and disruption on Tuesday (18 January).

Unions say there have been 62 restraints at Lanchester School in the West Midlands since September, with staff repeatedly kicked, punched in the face and seriously threatened by pupils.

The NUT and GMB unions say the local authority has failed to address the escalating situation in the past two years, and rubbed salt in the wound by announcing a swathe of redundancies last month.

The TES has already highlighted the vulnerability of special school and pupil referral unit (PRU) staff as the local authority cuts bite.

The Solihull school - which caters for 33 pupils with emotional, social and behavioural difficulties - and its sister PRU are due to lose nearly nine support staff posts and the equivalent of nearly one teaching post in cuts announced before Christmas, unions say.

This comes despite a 2009 local authority inquiry into behaviour issues at the school, which recommended "increased resources" to tackle violence, especially at lunchtimes. There are currently nine teachers and 10 support staff at Lanchester.

Staff say the school, which scored a "satisfactory" rating in its most recent Ofsted inspection in 2007, has gone downhill in the past two years, with three changes of principal over the same period.

The strike came just months after schools minister Nick Gibb revealed that 2,126 teachers have been injured at schools in England since 2001. In the last academic year, a total of 44 were so seriously hurt that they had to leave school in an ambulance - the highest number in over five years.

Amanda Gearing, GMB official for Solihull, said some staff at Lanchester were "in fear and dread" of going to work.

"They are being assaulted on a daily basis," she said. "There is no school-wide behaviour policy and there is no consistency in the way the children are dealt with; the children can see there are no consequences for their actions."

NUT general secretary Christine Blower added: "Teachers and support staff at Lanchester School are committed to the education and care of vulnerable young people at this special school. It is abhorrent that they are being forced to take strike action in order to ensure a safe environment in which children and staff can learn and work without fear of being assaulted or injured."

A spokesman for Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council said pupils are taught in groups with a high staff ratio.

In a statement he said: "Incidents which require physical intervention (restraint) at any school of this type are not uncommon.

"Restraining a pupil is always a last resort, but is used where pupils are putting themselves at risk, as well as causing a risk to others. Staff have had specialist training in this area."

He admitted there had been assaults on staff since September, although none had required first aid.

"We stress that the safety of staff and pupils is of paramount importance. A new executive principal has been appointed at the school who has already made some immediate organisational changes, including additional training for staff around managing difficult behaviour."

The council added that no final decisions on job cuts across the school and PRU had been made.

"We are currently in a consultation period for a management of change programme. We are consulting on how we can bring the two staff groups together to provide sustainability and flexibility, and better meet the needs of the pupils," a statement said.

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