21/03/2019

Fifth Of NI School Staff Assaulted Once A Week

One in five school staff in Northern Ireland are assaulted once a week, according to a recent survey.

The Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Committee of Trade Unions (ICTU) Education Group released the figures following a major survey of teachers and support staff.

It also discovered that one in every three workers in the education sector experience physical abuse at least once a year, 83% have been verbally abused in the classroom, with 45% of the abuse coming from parents.

The survey also highlighted the fact that some staff receive far more abuse than others, with 88% of special education staff being assaulted along with 95% of support staff, such as classroom assistants.

The consistent view of all unions representing education workers is that it is a reasonable expectation that schools should be safe places with robust mechanisms to protect all students and those working with them, including teachers and support staff.

The Chair of the NIC-ICTU Education Group Denise Walker (GMB) said: "Everyone expects and is entitled to go to work free from the threat of physical violence but if you work in one of Northern Ireland's schools in a support role, you could be one of the 51% who have been subjected to a physical incident at work. 43% of whom reported having been a victim of physical violence weekly.
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"With only 34% of victims receiving any form of support and action taken in only 22% of incidents, our support staff are feeling exposed and unsupported! Classroom assistants and support staff work in schools helping some of the most vulnerable pupils, yet they receive little or no support when they need it most. Over 54% of teaching staff felt supported after reporting similar incidents and while this is still too low, it demonstrates that the support structures are just not being applied adequately or equally. This is totally unacceptable.

"The Education Authority and Department of Education must act now to eradicate the threat of violence in our schools. It's time they take responsibility and ensure they carry out the duty of care that the staff they employ deserve."

The union carried out the survey of nine schools in October 2018 in response to concerns raised by members in relation to the levels of violence in schools.

Vice-chair of NIC-ICTU Education Group Maxine Murphy-Higgins (NASUWT) said the growing problem highlights a lack of resources in the education sector.

"The figures in this survey are truly shocking. Just over 55% of primary school teachers have been assaulted at work while almost 90% of special school teachers have been assaulted.

"But any discussion of violent and disruptive behaviour in schools has to be put in the context of the budget cuts that are happening in Northern Ireland. Schools are losing the specialist support that they did have to work with vulnerable younger people, class sizes are getting bigger and there are not enough resources being put into supporting pupils with special educational needs (SEN).

"In many schools teachers and support staff receive little or no support when they are assaulted and in a minority of schools the first reaction of management is to blame the staff member for the assault. Attitudes like this lead to under-reporting of incidents of management and heighten the risk of more serious assaults in future.  

"The Department of Education as a matter of priority must ensure that all schools are meeting their statutory obligations to maintain a safe working environment for all staff."



(JG/CM)

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