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Call for action as hundreds of school staff attacks logged in 2020

Hundreds of attacs on school staff have been launched in the last year. Picture by Steve Brown.

Reducing class sizes and hiring more assistants should be a priority if education chiefs want to stop hundreds of classroom assaults being launched every year, it has been claimed.

Shocking new figures have revealed the extent of violence against staff in schools, with almost 1,000 incidents recorded across the north in the last year alone.

Of the 967 cases of physical and verbal abuse logged, more than half were aimed at staff in Aberdeenshire.

Furthermore there were 255 in Aberdeen and 49 in Moray.

Highland Council chiefs recorded their incidents by academic year, rather than calendar, and reported 172 over the 2019-20 period.

Teacher Ron Constable, joint secretary of the Aberdeen branch of union EIS, said he was “not surprised” by the numbers.

Last year the organisation polled around 400 educators and found 28% had been physically assaulted in the classroom within the previous year.

More than half said they had experienced verbal abuse.

Then, when considering the past five years, the figures rose to 57% for physical attacks and a staggering 86% for verbal incidents.

Almost one-third of members surveyed said their experiences with disruptive, challenging and violent pupils had made them want to quit the profession.

Teachers under ‘incredible stress’

Mr Constable said: “It’s in the top three queries we receive from members – physical assaults and the mitigations in place to try and help them.

“They are all under incredible stress at the moment because of Covid.

“Teachers are putting themselves in harm’s way during these times of coronavirus already, and they’re also experiencing physical assaults every day.”

Mr Constable has also received reports of staff being subjected to homophobic and racist remarks from youngsters.

The union has set up a working group with the city council, exploring the best ways to reduce these numbers.

This has included providing better training for teachers on how to report incidents, so that senior managers can see the raw data and get a clearer picture of the issues at hand.

Mr Constable added: “We’re not setting out to criminalise or demonise these children, who often have difficult lives and have gone through adverse childhood experiences.

“But teachers do need to be protected and we don’t want it to become normal that they can go to their place of employment with a risk of being assaulted.”

EIS has been calling for maximum class sizes to be reduced to 20, and for the hiring of more “linchpin” pupil support assistants (PSAs) to aid teachers in the classroom.

“They say there’s no evidence that smaller class sizes would improve attainment,” Mr Constable said.

“But this is about dealing with the situations in classes first.

“If you have more opportunities to interact with pupils, then attainment will come after.

“As a teacher, the first thing is to get a positive learning environment, but if there are constant interruptions then you can’t get to that place.

“That’s why we also need more PSAs – and every teacher can recognise the importance of a partnership with them.”

Desperate plea for more classroom aid

All of the local authorities in the north categorise violent incidents in schools slightly differently, meaning the numbers cannot be meaningfully compared.

However, all reported a large drop over the last year, likely due to the fact classrooms were closed for many months amid the pandemic.

The number fell by more than half, as 1,156 were noted in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray in 2019, with 661 in the 2018-19 Highland academic year.

The figures were obtained by the Scottish Conservatives, and branded “absolutely shocking” by the party’s justice spokesman and north-east MSP, Liam Kerr.

He said: “Teachers do everything they can to ensure children are given the best opportunity to achieve in life.

“But it’s clear the loss of specialist support staff who work with pupils, sometimes with complex needs, is being felt in the classroom because they also do terrific work in curbing these incidents.

“These incredibly concerning figures highlight the negative impact cuts imposed on councils by the Scottish Government have had in schools.

“We shouldn’t demonise pupils, but it is nevertheless vital teachers do not feel threatened in their own work environment.

“This is why it’s imperative staff are given additional support to ensure they feel safe to carry out their duties in the classroom.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “No teacher should have to suffer verbal or physical abuse in schools.

“We are supporting a number of programmes to promote positive relationships and tackle indiscipline, abuse and violence.

“This includes good behaviour management, restorative approaches and programmes to help develop social, emotional and behavioural skills.

“The number of full time equivalent teachers is the highest since 2008 and we have invested an additional £80 million this year to recruit more than 1,400 additional teachers and 200 support staff this year – all of whom are now in place.”

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