The SSTA Additional Support Needs and Education Committees organised a members’ consultative survey to assess the increasing evidence of disruptive pupil behaviour in secondary schools. 2478 members responding to the survey.
The survey revealed both the extent of verbal and physical aggression being faced by teachers in Scottish secondary schools as well as systemic failures to address these issues.
While facing verbal aggression at work would be uncommon in most occupations, 75% of secondary teachers reported having experienced verbal aggression in the past year. Indeed, even more seriously, 1 in 8 secondary teachers reported that they had been physically assaulted at work over that period. Perhaps it is not surprising that 75% of secondary teachers reported not feeling safe at work.
At the same time, the extent of violence against teachers may not be fully appreciated by Local Authorities as only a third of those secondary teachers who had been assaulted went on to complete a Violent Incident Form or equivalent. From comments provided, it appears that this may be due to a deep level of scepticism over whether officially recording Violent Incidents makes any difference in practice, while other comments suggest that some teachers had been actively discouraged from completing them by senior management.
Similarly, while most people assaulted at work would think it appropriate to report such incidents to the Police, only 4% of teachers who had been assaulted at work took that route. Teachers reported not doing so for a variety of reasons, ranging from fear the police would not take the reports seriously, to concerns it would not help the situation. Pupils over the age of 12 have reached the age of criminal responsibility and can be charged with offences, including assault, but many teachers – even when victims – did not wish to see this happen.
Schools continue to have the legal power to exclude pupils for seriously unacceptable behaviour but there is pressure from government and local authorities to see a fall in the usage of short-term exclusions, especially for care-experienced young people. Official figures confirm that there has been such a reduction in recent years but, of course, this does not mean that less incidents of seriously unacceptable behaviour are occurring – merely that less of those incidents are resulting in short-term exclusions being applied. The survey provided some evidence to support this belief in that two-thirds of teachers reported that pupils who had committed verbal or physical aggression against them were returned to their classes before the matter had been resolved.
Seamus Searson, SSTA General Secretary, was scathing in his response to the findings stating :
“This survey has provided clear evidence of an aggression epidemic sweeping through our schools which has left many teachers feeling unsafe at work and unsupported by employers who have a legal duty to ensure their health and safety”.
“No teacher should have to go to work worried in case they will be a victim of verbal aggression or even assault that day. School managements must ensure that appropriate actions are taken in response to violence and verbal aggression against staff, including properly risk assessing pupils with a propensity for violent outbursts before any decision is taken to return those pupils to their classes.”