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Crisis in classrooms: Attacks on teachers double in last year in schools across Scotland

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The full scale of Scotland’s violence in schools crisis can be revealed today, as new figures show attacks on teachers have doubled in the last year in a number of education authority areas.

Last week a report commissioned by the Scottish Government found violence in schools has increased significantly, with both pupils and teachers facing aggressive behaviour.

The report, produced by the Scottish Centre for Social Research for the Scottish Government, said there was an increase in “classroom disengagement behaviours and low-level disruptive behaviours” since 2016.

The publication of the study prompted Jenny Gilruth to give a statement to MSPs on Wednesday setting out the government’s plans to tackle the bad behaviour, including £900,000 in new funding for local authorities to train support staff and develop behaviour management strategies.

But data obtained from local education authorities by The Sunday Post suggests the problem is even more severe than the picture painted in that report.

Dramatic increases in attacks on teachers

Last year, East Lothian had 322 incidents of violence by pupils towards teachers reported to the council for the 2022/2023 year and it has since almost tripled, with 827 incidents reported so far this year.

Other council areas show similar findings with Midlothian, Angus, Perth and Kinross all having dramatic increases.

Midlothian had an increase of 280 incidents from last year, with Perth and Kinross having more than doubled from 350 incidents in 2021/2022 to 628 incidents so far this year.

Angus Council reported a steady rise in incidents since 2019/20, with 205 that year; 237 in 20/21; 301 in 21/22 and then 573 in 22/23.

Unlike other councils, they did not give figures for the current educational year.

They also noted that most incidents involved children in primary schools. Some of the violent incidents resulted in staff suffering injuries.

Stirling Council confirmed that 31 early years workers and 16 primary school teachers have required first aid treatment so far this year.

Pandemic impact

Teachers’ leaders believe that lockdown, which saw children left at home for months at a time while schools and nurseries were closed, impeded their development, affecting interpersonal skills and their ability to cope with stressful situations.

NASUWT national officer Mike Corbett, who previously worked as a teacher for 25 years, said a lot of members have said that there has been a change in children post-pandemic.

He said: “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly the reasons, but there is no doubt that children just seem to be finding it harder to stick to boundaries and follow instructions and that can be low level things such as taking your jacket off or putting your phone away.

“There seems to be a reluctance of head teachers in some schools to take serious action when there has been serious misbehaviour.

“We think some of that comes from original Scottish Government messaging for exclusions and there is no doubt that some of these head teachers have taken that to mean that they shouldn’t exclude at all, even where literally someone has thrown a window pole and hit them and some really extreme incidents.

“When I was teaching five years ago, that was so beyond the pale and would lead to an automatic exclusion, and now, not in every school that is not the case.

“I think what we’re looking for in short is some clarity and consistency.

“It starts with the Cabinet Secretary saying that there is a problem here and I’m going to give you some clear messaging on what you can and cannot do.

“That would include saying if there is serious violent behaviour of course you may need to exclude a child when there is that behaviour and then we need the consistency of application across schools.”

The report found that 67% of teachers and school support workers had encountered verbal abuse, with more than half (59%) having experienced physical violence between pupils in the classroom.

Dealing with challenges

Scotland’s Education Secretary, Jenny Gilruth, announced £900,000 will be given to councils to help train school staff to deal with “the new challenges in our schools post-Covid” in Holyrood after the publication of the report.

She stated: “The Scottish Government will provide support of £900,000 for local councils to use to support training for their staff in responding to the new challenges in our schools post-Covid.”

She also went on to say that a national action plan would be developed and pledged that it would set out a “range of practical suggestions and solutions”.

EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley said the report “did not contain a great deal of detail on the practical steps to be taken and the increased support to be delivered to schools to tackle pupil indiscipline, aggression and violence”.

She said: “The Cabinet Secretary did announce an additional £900,000 for training, to be split between Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

“This amounts to less than £30,000 per local authority or, worse still, £360 per school. It won’t nearly touch the sides.

“We look forward to learning what further resource will follow to fund the employment of additional teachers and support for teachers, as they endeavour to meet the needs of children and young people amidst environments that are putting their health and safety directly at risk at the same time as underlining the quality of pupils’ learning.”

In their own words

Teachers from both primary and secondary schools across Scotland describe some of the worst incidents they have had to deal with in the course of their work.

I have had to have a pupil removed from my class because he was stalking me; passing my class 20-30 times a day, shouting “love you” down the corridor, coming to my room at lunch and break when I’ve been working for a “chat”. Outside of school, if this same thing was happening at home I’d phone the police – Secondary Teacher

We have fire alarms being set off regularly, pupils running around corridors during class time, some causing disruption by coming into lessons they are not timetabled for or just defiantly not coming to their lesson at all.

There is a constant undermining of teachers’ authority which is impacting on our self-respect and undermining our personal mental health and wellbeing – Secondary Teacher

I was severely injured when a child jumped on my back in school. I have been left with a life-changing disability and I am in severe pain daily. The incident meant that I could not hold my newborn baby for months and, even now, I still can’t lift her up properly.

Unfortunately, there is a culture of a lack of reporting of violence and aggression in schools, this is combined with a toxic culture of teacher blame leading to teachers feeling unsupported.

There is not enough protection for teachers in a society that is becoming more distant from a culture of respect towards the profession and one in which violence and aggression is increasingly becoming “the norm – Primary School Teacher

I was hit in the abdomen by a window pole – Primary Teacher

I have had pupils making sexual innuendoes and asking me questions of a sexual nature – Secondary Teacher

I had threats of physical abuse from parents in the car park – Secondary Teacher

I had a rock thrown at me, which hit me – Secondary Teacher