Half of education staff have faced aggression from students in the last year

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Press release
01 September 2014 by ATL Media Office
Over half (57%) of staff in state schools have faced aggression from a student in the last year, and over a quarter have experienced it from a student's parents or carers, according to a joint survey by ATL and ITV regional news.

Not for publication in any media before 19.00 hours on Monday 1 September 2014

Half of education staff have faced aggression from students in the last year

Over half (57%) of staff in state schools have faced aggression from a student in the last year, and over a quarter have experienced it from a student's parents or carers, according to a joint survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and ITV regional news.

Almost half (45%) said the aggression from students took the form of physical violence; meanwhile 84% said they had been verbally insulted and 70% said they had been intimidated or threatened.

The most common forms of physical aggression experienced were pushing or shoving, using an object such as furniture to harm them, and being kicked or punched.

Overall, 52% said they feel the behaviour of students has got worse over the past two years. Fifty-one per cent believe that it has got worse over the past five years and 44% felt it has got worse over the past 10 years. Almost 80% believe student behavior has declined because society has become less respectful to people in front-line professional jobs.

Pam Harris, a supply teacher from East Yorkshire, said: "A pupil emptied the contents of a syringe (it turned out to be water) in my face and ran off. The pupil was in school the next day and wasn't even asked to apologise."

A head of department in an academy in London said: "Being sworn at seems to be relatively normal."

Dealing with students' aggression has caused 60% of staff who have experienced it to feel a loss of confidence in their work, over a third (34%) to have mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety or depression, and a third (33%) to refuse to teach the pupil concerned.

Sharon Lee, a primary teacher in an academy in Surrey, said: "In the past two years I have had two children permanently excluded from my class due to violent behaviour towards others. Both cases were linked to mental health issues, and it seems that we are experiencing more children struggling with these than ever before."

The survey also found that 40% of respondents have considered leaving the profession because of the poor behaviour of students.

On a more positive note, of those who have experienced and reported an incident of a student being aggressive towards them, 37% said they were totally happy with the way their school or college dealt with the matter. And almost half reported that their school or college has risk assessments in place for particular students.

Over a quarter of education staff (27%) stated they have faced aggression from students' parents or carers in the last year. Forty per cent said they think the behaviour of parents or carers has got worse over the last two and five years.

Of those who have experienced aggression from the parents or carers of a student, 80% said it took the form of verbal insults, 60% said it was intimidation, such as threats, and 4% said they had faced physical violence. The most common forms of physical violence reported were pushing or shoving and using an object, such as furniture, to threaten or harm them.

Rebecca Binder, a primary teacher in a school in Surrey, said: "During a parents' evening a parent launched a verbal attack saying that I had made her children's lives a misery. I just had to carry on as if nothing happened. Soon after this I left teaching due to stress and depression, and my confidence was destroyed. I am teaching again now, at a different school, but still remember that awful time and the fact that I had no support."

Sixty-eight per cent of those who faced aggression from a parent or carer felt a loss in confidence working, and over a third (35%) said it had caused them mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety or depression.

A teacher in a primary school in Devon said: "You need to be a 'tough cookie' to deal with abusive parents. I found it a challenge to ask a father to leave because he was swearing at staff in front of nursery children, but the other parents stayed on to make sure I was OK and looked out for me."

A primary teacher in Northern Ireland said: "In the last year I've experienced parents telling lies and spreading untruths and believing their child is incapable of wrongdoing, even when it can be proved their child has been in the wrong. If it hadn't been for my principal standing behind me and supporting me fully I would have seriously questioned whether to return to my job in September."

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: "It is shocking that almost 60% of education staff have faced aggression from a student in the last year. No member of staff should be subjected to aggressive behaviour, in any form, while doing their job.

"Sadly, although the vast majority of students are well-behaved and a pleasure to teach, poor behaviour is now a daily reality for most staff. Many students have chaotic home lives that would cause most adults to lose their temper occasionally.

"As well as having to be experts in their own subject, teachers also need to be psychologists and behavioural experts. It's amazing that so much excellent work is done behind the scenes day in, day out, to help students stay on track.

"Schools need to have firm and consistent discipline policies and work with parents to keep schools and colleges safe places for students and staff alike."

Further notes:

* ATL surveyed 1,560 education staff in state schools in the UK between 15 July and 4 August 2014. To view the full survey results click here.

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.