It is surely impossible to read the statistics around violence and aggression in schools without being concerned. The levels of such incidents, whether pupil on teacher, parent or carer on teacher, or pupil on pupil, are massively worrying, and the increasing rates at which they are occurring must be a serious wake up call to those in charge of Scottish education.

These problems affect teachers in various ways. We can see from the results of the survey that significant numbers are struggling with stress and anxiety, but it goes even further than that. According to the EIS, increasing numbers of teachers are either requiring extended absences or, in the worst case scenario, considering leaving the profession entirely. To be absolutely, 100% clear: Scotland is not in a position where it can afford to lose even relatively small numbers of teachers, such is the strain on the system as things stand.

Escalating incidents of violence and aggression also have an obvious impact on young people. Would you be able to learn properly in a class that was regularly disrupted by the aggressive or violent behaviour of another student? Would you even want to be in school under those circumstances?

Some teachers who responded to the EIS survey spoke of pupils moving schools to escape from environments that they found unbearable and, while things would hopefully improve for them in a new setting, the fact is that changing school is a significant disruption to learning on its own terms.

There are more subtle impacts on young people as well, such as restrictions to the teaching approaches that can be deployed to maximise their learning.

Teachers have a wide range of techniques available to them, and are constantly making professional judgements about the best way to engage their students and help to develop their knowledge and skills. Some are simple and straightforward, such as standing at the front of the room and talking students through a worked example, but others are significantly more complex and simply cannot take place in an environment where there is a real risk of serious aggression and even physical violence. As a consequence, even when such incidents aren’t taking place, the threat of them occurring may still be damaging the quality of children’s education by restricting the options available to their teachers.

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Some may argue that this problem is not unique to Scotland, and to be fair that is true. In Wales, teachers in one secondary school staged strike action in protest at pupil behaviour that included threats to teachers, and in England more than 40% of surveyed teachers said behaviour has worsened since the pandemic.

Across the Atlantic, the situation is described as approaching “crisis point”. Australia has an ongoing problem and will be nervously awaiting the forthcoming PISA data. New Zealand, Brazil, South Africa – the list goes on.

Like teacher recruitment, classroom behaviour is quickly becoming an international issue, which means that we are unlikely to be able to completely solve the problem on our own.

And to makes things even more complicated, this issue doesn’t seem to be restricted to schools. In healthcare settings, patient ‘behaviour’ has declined since the pandemic, and retail workers report the same sort of shift.

This is all happening in the context of what increasingly looks like a mental health crisis amongst young people, with the NHS recently reporting that around 20% of young people now have a “probably mental health disorder”, a significant rise from the 2017 figure of 12.5%.

Not just a matter of bad kids or feckless parents. Certainly not a problem to be solved by lazily demanding old-fashioned discipline approaches that, even if they were effective in the past, would simply exacerbate the specific challenges we are now facing.

EIS themselves point this out. In her comment piece, the union’s General Secretary Andrea Bradley frames the problem in terms of “distressed” young people who are “demonstrating this through violent and aggressive behaviour.” She also points to the “traumatic experience of the Covid pandemic” and, before that, the consequences of austerity cuts since 2010.

Pupil behaviour is clearly a broader social issue, and looks very much like the current crisis is indeed linked to the pandemic – realistically, how could it not be?

But many things can be true at once, and it is absolutely the case that decisions, policies and practices in Scotland are also factors.

Over and over, teachers have highlighted the inability to meet the increasing, and increasingly complex, additional support needs of students. That alone should be a national scandal.

They call for improved support in terms of increased ASN staff numbers, smaller class sizes, quicker access to services like CAHMS and educational psychology, and more consistent support from schools and, especially, local authorities.

Much has also been made in recent months of the frustrations that many express with respect to the presumption of mainstreaming for almost all students. While the principle of this policy is absolutely correct, it is obvious to anyone even tangentially involved in education that it has never been properly resourced, leaving large numbers of young people in environments that are not suitable for them because they are not being properly supported. This is not just a breach of their rights, it is also unfair on other students.

Similar criticisms are made of the ‘restorative justice’ approach that is increasingly deployed in response to conflict in schools. Done well, this focus on relationships and positive resolutions can be much more effective than a constant stream of punishments that, inevitably, deliver diminishing returns, but it requires time and space that too many teachers simply do not have. The end result of this is, arguably, the worst of all worlds, leaving victims of violent, aggressive and generally unacceptable behaviour feeling powerless and sidelined.

The latest report from the EIS doesn’t just highlight the problems that teachers are currently facing – it also offers a long list of actions that the union believes should take place at a national, local authority, and school level, from public statements of support for the profession and adoption of specific definitions of violence and aggression to better risk assessments and more regular training for all staff.

The Scottish Government and councils will, of course, insist that they are taking this matter extremely seriously, but teachers do not seem to agree, and that is something that those in charge need to come to terms with very quickly.

This problem clearly isn’t going to just go away, and denying reality will only further alienate teachers and, without doubt, damage the educational experiences of young people up and down the country.