Teachers who live in fear of pupils

STEVE DOWNES Teachers are demanding proper protection after a survey revealed a shocking catalogue of physical and verbal abuse launched against them every day by children in Norfolk's classrooms.


Teachers have demanded proper protection as a survey revealed a shocking catalogue of physical and verbal abuse launched against them every day by children in Norfolk's classrooms.

Almost 150 incidents were recorded in a week chosen to provide a snapshot of some of the extreme behaviour that goes on in the county's schools. Among the incidents recorded were foul-mouthed racist and homophobic abuse, physical attacks, assaults with objects, threats of violence and verbal attacks by parents.

The survey by three Norfolk teaching unions paints a chilling picture of the intimidation and fear endured by people who are trying to give the next generation a good start in life. Some teachers said they were so ground down by the constant abuse that they were looking to quit the profession.

The survey was carried out by the Norfolk branches of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT).

It comes two weeks after a survey by Teachers' TV found that half of all teachers had considered quitting because of stress.

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The latest findings show an extraordinary lack of deference to teachers and raise serious questions about Tony Blair's much-heralded Respect agenda.

Union leaders said the findings were a "disgrace" and further evidence of "escalating" violence and abuse in classrooms.

Colin Collis, Norfolk secretary of the NASUWT, stressed that some schools did not have a problem, while others dealt with incidents very well.

But he said: "I would like to know what makes youngsters think it's okay to abuse their teachers.

"I think it's a disgrace that they feel they are in a position to do that. Part of the problem is that they don't believe there are any consequences for doing it.

"We are in discussions with the county council about it. It's not about getting at the council - we want to work with them to find solutions.

"One of the things I'm very unhappy about is the number of times an incident was reported and there was no proper follow-up by the management. That's not good enough."

The survey found:

t 89pc of the incidents were reported to senior management, but in 30pc no action was taken and in half of the cases the teacher was not satisfied with what was done

t Most of the incidents (81pc) happened in secondary schools, with 68pc in the final three years of high school

t Two-thirds of the abusers and assailants were boys

t 10 incidents of parents abusing teachers, including eight at primary schools

t 19pc of all the incidents were physical assaults

t 5pc were related to a disability

t 4pc were of a sexual nature

t 3pc were racial.

Tony Mulgrew, county secretary of the NUT, said: "This was an attempt to identify how big the problem was. We want to work with schools and the authority towards a Norfolk behaviour policy - so there's a consistent way of dealing with things throughout the county.

"Abuse is absolutely unacceptable. Physical violence is, if anything, even worse. Sadly, what we found was what we expected because we hear so many things from so many teachers.

"The issue of it not being dealt with properly is a big factor in people leaving the profession."

Mr Collis added: "There needs to be proper support to our members under the duty of care. We want to know how that's going to be sorted out.

"We believe that this is a societal issue and it's getting worse in all schools. The bottom line is we believe the issues of violence and abuse are escalating.

"Some members are their own worst enemies because they believe it's just another thing they have to put up with in a day."

The survey's findings have been presented to Norfolk children's services health and safety committee, and copies are in the hands of senior county council officers and councillors with responsibilities for schools.

At the county's joint consultative committee in January, union leaders and school bosses agreed that all schools should display notices like those in doctors' surgeries and hospitals, warning parents and pupils that verbal or physical attacks would not be tolerated.

Lisa Christensen, director of children's services: "We have an expectation that everyone working for the county council should be treated with dignity and respect and work was already underway on a countywide behaviour strategy.

"Clearly, good behaviour in the classroom is vital if children are to get the most from their learning. This is a very helpful report and we had a very useful discussion with the unions.

"This report will help us with our strategy on this important issue, along with other sources of information."