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A third of education staff have dealt with physical violence from pupils in this school year, with parents failing to back schools - ATL

30 March 2012

A third of school and college staff have dealt with physical violence from a student during this academic year, according to a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

Of those staff who had to deal with violent students, one in four said it had been violence directed at them and the same percentage said it was directed at a teacher. The main forms of physical violence experienced included pushing and shoving, punching, hitting and kicking. These were the key findings of an ATL survey of 814 teachers, lecturers, support staff and school leaders in state and independent schools and colleges across the UK.

A support staff member at a state secondary school in Wales said: "I had a female student threaten to kick the smile off my face, in front of a whole class." A teacher at a state secondary school in England said: "Six boys were refusing to work, throwing glue, pens, fighting and throwing books." A management team member at a state primary school in England said: "A Year 4 pupil threw a Year 1 child on the school field."

Staff believe the behaviour of pupils has become worse over the last two years, with just under half saying it had got worse, while 57% believed it has worsened over the last five years.

However, across all schools and colleges, members reported that the vast majority of bad behaviour was low-level disruption such as talking and not paying attention (87%), disrespect (85%), including the use of mobile phones in class and ignoring teachers' requests, and verbal attacks (63%).

Tony Osborne, a further education lecturer from England, said: "Low-level disruption, name-calling, using mobile phones in class and homophobic language is an everyday occurrence with foundation level learners in FE."

A primary teacher in Surrey said: "I experience low-level disruption every day from a core group of six pupils. Constantly disrupting, talking, shouting, fighting, rolling around on the carpet, poking each other with pencils, rocking on chairs, whistling or humming, with absolutely no respect for others or school property. I feel I am child-minding throughout the school day - just trying to keep the rest of the class safe."

The lack of positive role models at home (73%), relational breakdowns within families (63%) and seeking attention from other pupils (73%) were highlighted by staff as being major factors contributing to problem behaviour in schools.

A special educational needs staff member at a secondary school in England said: "Pupils are often confused, lack stable families, lack discipline or discipline is inconsistently applied."

For the vast majority of staff, poor student behaviour disrupts their classes (80%), but for nearly half of staff (49%) dealing with challenging behaviour has led to stress and more than a third (37%) have suffered from anxiety.

A support staff member at a state primary school in England said: "A pupil once hit me in the back totally unexpectedly, because I had asked her to put a book away. I was so winded and hurt that I couldn't carry on that day."

On a positive note, over half of staff felt their school or college provides adequate support in dealing with reported incidents. Nearly 90% of staff said their school has a clear behaviour policy with 57% of staff satisfied with this policy, although three in ten were not satisfied. Two-thirds (67%) of staff believe that having a whole-school behaviour policy is the most effective way of managing pupil behaviour. Whole-school bullying policies (53%) and receiving support from the management team (47%) are also considered important.

The most common forms of discipline used by schools and colleges include calling or summoning children's parents (82%), removal from lessons (82%), and warnings (80%). However, independent schools tended to favour using detentions (77%), suspensions (76%), as well as warnings (75%) and summoning parents (74%). Of all those surveyed, a third (33%) of staff said pupils had been excluded from their school during the current academic year, a figure which rose to 51% among academy staff in England.

Victoria Malcolm, a primary school teacher from a state school in England, said: "Pupils know that there is little school staff can do to enforce discipline. They are not 'afraid' for want of a different word. Behaviour folders, traffic light charts, even talking to parents does nothing to encourage certain children to improve their behaviour."
Respondents also raised concerns over the support they had received from the parents or guardians of children who behaved poorly. Gail Reardon, a secondary teacher from a state school in England, said: "Most parents are supportive, however, a minority refuse to acknowledge or deal with their child's behaviour."

A management team member at a state primary school in England said: "A change in pupils' behaviour is not helped by the lack of respect that parents show towards staff in school - there is no wonder that some pupils are rude when this is what they see as a role model."

ATL general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, said: "It is shocking that a third of teaching staff have experienced violence and that it is getting worse. ATL firmly believes that no member of staff should be subjected to violent behaviour by pupils.

"A minority of children are very aware of their rights, have a total disregard of school rules and are rather less aware of their responsibility for their own learning and how to show respect to staff and other students. This can apply as much to over-indulged middle class children as those from challenging families.

"It is not surprising to see that poor behaviour is often attributed to problems at home. Teachers need to work with parents to encourage good behaviour and parents should be acting as good role models by supporting staff and helping them create a more positive learning environment for their children."

Click here to view the full survey results.

Further notes:

ATL surveyed 814 teachers, lecturers, support staff and school leaders working in primary and secondary state and independent schools in the UK in March 2012.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers' Annual Conference is taking place at Manchester Central Convention Centre, from 2-4 April 2012.

Notes to editors

  1. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing approximately 170,000 teachers, headteachers, lecturers and support staff in maintained and independent nurseries, schools, sixth form, tertiary and further education colleges in the United Kingdom.

  2. ATL exists to help members, as their careers develop, through first rate research, advice, information and legal advice.

  3. ATL is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). ATL is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.

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