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7942 attacks on Scottish teachers logged by councils

THOUSANDS of teachers and school support workers are being attacked by pupils, sometimes in shocking assaults with hammers.

Flowers are laid last week at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds in memory of Ann Maguire, 61, a teacher who was stabbed to death by a teenagerPhotograph: Getty Images/Christopher Furlong
Flowers are laid last week at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds in memory of Ann Maguire, 61, a teacher who was stabbed to death by a teenagerPhotograph: Getty Images/Christopher Furlong

Almost 8000 physical assaults against staff were logged by councils across Scotland between August 2012 and October 2013 - the latest available statistics.

However, the trade union Unison, which conducts an annual survey on violence in the workplace, has warned the figures were just the "tip of the iceberg".

Teachers have told the Sunday Herald that they fear violence at work more than ever, and frequently experience verbal abuse.

One incident involved a teacher being taken to hospital with a facial injury which required stitches after she was hit with a chair.

Low-level assaults include spitting, kicking, biting and punching, with more serious cases involving weapons like hammers.

Concerns over violence in classrooms have been raised following the death of Leeds teacher Ann Maguire, 61, who was fatally stabbed at Corpus Christi Catholic College last week.

A 15-year-old schoolboy has been charged with her murder and is due to stand trial in November.

Tributes have been paid to the popular teacher, while flowers were laid outside the school where she was killed. Yesterday, around 300 members of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) took part in a minute's silence at their annual conference in Birmingham in her memory.

Unison's figures are compiled through a survey of local authorities, which monitors violent incidents through their internal reporting systems.

With 7942 reported assaults, education was the sector with the largest number of assaults at work Unison said, with social services' 1196 incidents making it second worst.

However, Dave Watson, head of campaigns at Unison Scotland, said the numbers were the "tip of the iceberg".

He added: "What we find from our members is that there is a culture of under-reporting, particularly in schools. The differences in recording systems by councils also means we don't get to see the true extent of what's going on in schools."

Watson said he dealt with a case in a school near Glasgow where a support assistant was repeatedly hit with a hammer.

Larry Flanagan, the Education Institute of Scotland (EIS) general secretary, said: "Anecdotally, there is evidence of a growth in more serious incidents of violence, threat of violence and intimidation. While these remain a very small percentage of incidents, the EIS is very clear that a zero-tolerance approach should be taken to events such as weapons being brought into schools.

"Often, this will include police involvement where violence has been used or threatened.

"Young people, children, who become involved in such behaviour should be supported in addressing their actions but, for example, we cannot have a situation where a teacher has been assaulted and the pupil responsible is not removed from that school register - as has happened in some areas."

Separate figures also highlight worrying levels of violence in Scottish classrooms.

Glasgow City Council excluded 60 primary and secondary pupils for assaulting staff in 2012-13. One incident last June resulted in police reporting a 13-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy to the Children's Reporter.

A teacher at Knightswood Secondary - a school with around 1400 pupils - was taken to hospital after being struck by a chair while intervening in a fight between two pupils. It is not known if any pupils were excluded.

A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said: "We have a zero-tolerance approach to any sort of violence against our staff. We expect all of our young people to behave in a respectful manner and our schools to be safe and accommodating environments."

In Edinburgh during the 2012-13 academic session there were 125 reported physical assaults or attacks on teachers by pupils, and the year before there were 200.

Measures such as bringing police officers into schools as "campus cops" have been welcomed as a way of tackling and preventing violence.

The officers mediate meetings with pupils, address bullying and patrol the area.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education convener for Edinburgh City Council, said: "We've had police officers linked to all our high schools for the past two years and it's proved really successful. It gives the police an opportunity to show a friendly face and build up positive relations with young people.

"It's also an excellent example of how we can reduce antisocial behaviour, help build relationships with the police and provide positive role models for young people.

"Assaults, threats, intimidation and harassment of any kind against staff in our schools will not be tolerated. We will support staff who are victims and will take action against anyone committing these offences."

In Aberdeen, the city council recorded 164 physical assaults or attacks by pupils on teachers in the 2012-13 teaching period.

Across the country, school staff say they are faced with incidents of physical or verbal abuse almost daily.

A female teacher, who has taught in Glasgow schools for 20 years, said she was not surprised a teacher could be murdered in school.

The teacher, speaking anonymously, said: "A teacher being assaulted in that way - I can imagine it just as easy at a Glasgow school, a Manchester school or an Edinburgh school.

"I would say at my school, behaviour is the worst it's ever been. I feel there's an atmosphere that you're not safe in places like corridors. There's a lot of abuse of teachers in corridors. It's not unusual to be told to f**k off.

"In the last week I've been called a stupid cow in my classroom in front of other pupils."

Another teacher said she felt there was a reluctance by management to suspend pupils, which was contributing to a culture of under-reporting.

She said: "Pupils are being sent home to cool off and it's just marked as a permission rather than an exclusion. People are sweeping things under the carpet. It does make it more difficult to report incidents."

At a national level, the Government has several initiatives in place in a bid to halt violent incidents, including No Knives, Better Lives and Mentors in Violence Prevention.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We are investing significantly in various violence reduction preventative approaches with young people across Scotland through schools, stakeholders and local authorities as part of a wider strategy to promote positive relationships and behaviour."

SCHOOL SECURITY

THE stabbing of Ann Maguire has prompted renewed debate about security in schools.

Some have called for greater use of airport-style metal detectors and frisking of pupils for weapons, measures which have been in place since 2008 in several UK schools with a history of violence.

Facing security checks is a common experience for pupils in American schools, where children are routinely screened to see if they are carrying guns or knives.

Some US states spend millions of dollars a year on school security including guards, video cameras, panic buttons, metal detectors and X-ray equipment.

While assaults by pupils on teachers remain rare in Scotland, knives, firearms, chisels and even a hacksaw have been confiscated from primary and secondary pupils in the last three years.

In one incident, a pupil arrived in class with a spoon sharpened to form a blade, while metal bars, a pool cue and scissors have also been brought to schools.

Some 55 campus police officers are in place in 65 secondary schools across Scotland. Their role is not to police the classrooms but help steer young people away from antisocial activity and crime.

However, research carried out in 2009 found their presence on site increased the feeling of safety for pupils and staff, noting that "some educational staff were reassured by the campus officer(s) presence".

TEACHER ATTACKS

THE last teacher killed at work in the UK was Gwen Mayor, who died along with 16 pupils in the Dunblane massacre in 1996.

A year earlier, headmaster Philip Lawrence, a father of four, was stabbed to death outside his own school in London as he intervened to save a 13-year-old pupil from gang violence.

His killer, Learco Chindamo, aged 15 at the time, was released from prison on parole in July 2010, but was back in jail within months after breaching the terms of his release. Last week it emerged he was due to be re-released from jail.

In 2004, a teacher at Westminster City School was raped by Dwayne Best, then a 15-year-old pupil.

Best was given a life sentence and the teacher was later awarded damages after suing the school, because she was not warned of Best's previous attack on a cleaner.

Recent incidents of violence in the classroom in the US include a teacher who was shot dead by a student at a middle school in Nevada last year. Maths teacher Michael Landsberry, 45, a miltary veteran who had served in Afghanistan, was hailed as a hero for defending the students and trying to convince Jose Reyes, 12, to drop his gun.

In 2011, Suzette York, the principal of a private high school in Memphis, was found in a pool of blood after being stabbed to death by 16-year-old pupil Eduardo Marmolejo.

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