Edinburgh schools: Teachers face violence and aggression by pupils on a daily basis

EIS survey finds growing problem of violence and aggression in schools and teachers considering quitting as a result
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Teachers in Edinburgh are facing violence and abuse on a daily basis – sometimes from children as young as five.

A survey by Scotland’s biggest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), found the problem had increased over the past four years and many teachers had considered quitting because of it.

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In Edinburgh, 72 per cent of EIS school branches said pupil-on-teacher violent and aggressive incidents at school were a daily occurrence. And one long-serving primary teacher in the Capital told the Evening News he was regularly sworn at, including by five-year-olds. “You have children as young as P1 telling you to 'F*** off' if you ask them to do something.” He said he had also been punched by pupils “two or three times”.

Violence and aggression by pupils towards teachers has increased since the pandemic and is now a daily occurrence in many schools, the EIS survey found.  Picture: David JonesViolence and aggression by pupils towards teachers has increased since the pandemic and is now a daily occurrence in many schools, the EIS survey found.  Picture: David Jones
Violence and aggression by pupils towards teachers has increased since the pandemic and is now a daily occurrence in many schools, the EIS survey found. Picture: David Jones

Another teacher in a city primary school said: “I have pupils who refuse to follow instructions, who will storm out of the class, kick furniture on the way out, slam the doors. I've been punched in the face. It almost feels like it has become normal.”

The survey found that across Scotland 72 per cent of school branches said violence and aggression had increased since before the Covid pandemic. Physical violence towards a teacher was the most common type of violence and aggression in primary and special education, while verbal abuse was the most common in secondary schools.

Edinburgh EIS president Phill Pearce said: “We have serious concerns about the violent behaviour that members in our branches are experiencing and we’re asking the local authority and senior leaders in schools to work with us urgently to end it.

Edinburgh EIS secretary Alison Murphy says urgent action is needed, including improvements in the recruitment, retention and pay of Pupil Support Assistants.Edinburgh EIS secretary Alison Murphy says urgent action is needed, including improvements in the recruitment, retention and pay of Pupil Support Assistants.
Edinburgh EIS secretary Alison Murphy says urgent action is needed, including improvements in the recruitment, retention and pay of Pupil Support Assistants.
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"Some 71 per cent of schools in Edinburgh report a significant increase in pupil-on-teacher violent and aggressive incidents over the last four years, to the point where that same number are experiencing them on a daily basis. The most common types of assault are intimidatory, obscene or derogatory verbal comments aimed at teachers, but close behind these are instances of actual physical violence, with 68 per cent of schools reporting hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, hair-pulling, biting, pushing, tripping or the throwing of objects at teachers.

“The impact of all this behaviour is devastating. Every single school has said that teachers are more stressed and 97 per cent that teachers have increased levels of anxiety or depression; 70 per cent indicate that they have had teachers on sick leave following a violent and aggressive incident; and a massive 80 per cent report that some members in their branch have considered leaving teaching as a result of violence and aggression that they have been subjected to or have had to deal with.”

The union pointed out that violence and aggression in the classroom also meant disruption for other pupils. Edinburgh EIS secretary Alison Murphy said: “All our branches are reporting that other pupils’ behaviour is adversely affected to the point where it’s difficult to maintain or regain attention or focus, with knock-on impacts on quality teaching and learning.”

She said action needed to tackle the situation included ensuring staff had supported time out to recover from incidents; adequate time for proper “restorative” approaches –conversations with pupils involved in violent behaviour about how their behaviour affects others; enough specialist staff, such as educational psychologists, to support pupils with additional needs (ASN); and urgent action on the recruitment, retention and pay of Pupil Support Assistants.

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EIS national vice-president Allan Crosbie, who is based in Edinburgh, stressed that the problem had been around long before the pandemic. “While Covid may have exacerbated the issues, the root cause goes back about 15 years. What we’re seeing now in classrooms is a reaping of the whirlwind of education cuts in the six years to 2015, when the Scottish Government oversaw a 7 per cent cut in education spending and councils slashed ASN support services. One crucial step they need to take is to realise their manifesto promise of employing an additional 3,500 teachers.”