Scottish teachers are at risk of being suspended or even prosecuted for carrying out their duties in implementing school behaviour policies, according to one of Scotland’s teaching unions.

The NASUWT is calling for schools, councils and the Scottish Government to provide guidance to teachers about how to correct behaviour without leaving themselves vulnerable to allegations of misconduct from parents and students.

They claim that, while under investigation, teachers can be unfairly subjected to reputational and legal damages which can endure regardless of the investigation’s outcome.

The union plans to discuss the issue at their annual conference in Aberdeen on Friday and Saturday, May 12 and 13.

Protection from allegations, within reason

Despite the union’s calls for better protection for teachers, General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach made it clear that they aren’t asking for free rein in interacting with students.

“Of course it is vitally important that teachers act responsibly, lawfully and safely in all their interactions with pupils,” he said.

“However, there is clear concern from teachers that they do not always receive the backing they need from school leaders and employers in implementing school policies on behaviour.

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“This leaves teachers vulnerable to allegations from pupils and parents, which in some cases can result in lengthy suspensions and even criminal charges. The impact on the teacher can be devastating and often career ending, even if they are eventually found to have done nothing wrong.”

NASUWT Scotland National Official Mike Corbett said that teachers should be held accountable for their behaviour. But an investigation shouldn’t be the same as an admission of wrongdoing.

“The NASUWT is clear that every allegation made against a teacher must be investigated and action taken where there is evidence to suggest there is a case to answer. However, this must be balanced with a greater duty of care to staff facing investigations arising from their implementation of school policies on pupil behaviour and conduct.

“Greater guidance is needed from the Scottish Government to help schools avoid such scenarios and ensure that schools are safe places for both pupils to learn in and teachers to work in.”


Teacher-student interactions an ongoing issue

The NASUWT’s calls for better protection of teacher won’t be the first time that pupil behaviour has triggered union action.

At Bannerman High School in Baillieston and Northfield Academy in Aberdeen, violence against teachers triggered strike threats in 2022.

At Bannerman, NASUWT members claimed that the school wasn’t reacting strongly enough to reprimand violent students.

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Figures obtained by the union showed that even though Bannerman was the only mainstream Glasgow secondary with zero exclusions in 2020/2021, there were 20 incidents of violence, aggression and challenging behaviour logged by the city council over that period.

NASUWT members at Bannerman voted to strike in November of last year.

And in Aberdeen, members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) claimed that teachers weren’t being protected from aggressive of pupils who were subjecting staff to physical and verbal abuse. Members voted 81% in favour of industrial action.

Although a strike never took place, Aberdeen City Council is now in the process of overhauling the school’s culture to improve student-teacher relations.

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.