Edinburgh’s special school workers ‘more at risk than jail wardens’

A prison guard. Pic: Ian Waldie/Getty Images
A prison guard. Pic: Ian Waldie/Getty Images
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SPECIAL school workers in Edinburgh are facing “more violence than wardens in a category A prison”, a union official has claimed.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) highlighted safety concerns from its members to the city council’s education, children and families committee following a joint study with Unison.

The findings revealed that around half of nursery nurses and pupil support assistants (PSAs) said they witnessed violence on a daily basis and had directly experienced violence at least once a week. Seven out of ten nursery nurses and PSAs and more than half of teaching staff feel suffering violence is seen as “part of the job” by employers.

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Alison Murphy, Edinburgh EIS secretary, spoke out about the “shockingly high” number of violent incidents in some schools in the Capital.

She added: “Very few staff in special schools are not experiencing violence and that’s a real worry. We are talking about some very, very, very severe incidents.

“One of the Unison reps was talking to a member who was off work because they had a broken nose. The member came in with her husband who said ‘my wife and her colleagues who work in a special school are coming home with more severe, more frequent injuries than myself and my colleagues, and I work in a category A prison’.

“Across the estate, we are seeing variation in the profile of children that are coming in. Staff need to know which children to expect in front of them.”

Andy Gray, the council’s head of schools and lifelong learning, said it was important not to demonise all school pupils – and that a tailored approach was sometimes needed.

He said: “The vast majority of children who are causing pain and hurt and suffering for staff have no intention whatsoever to be violent in the way that we would think of a violent incident.

“The reality is that there are 50,000 children in our schools in Edinburgh and we are talking about a tiny number of children that are creating a real and significant challenge for our staff to deal with. When the numbers are so small, individual circumstances need to be taken into account.

“We have got the vast majority of our children behaving really well in school, wanting to learn – with teachers who are very comfortable with them and enjoying their work with them.”

Liberal Democrat Cllr Louise Young tabled a motion, calling for council officers to 
investigate “proposed changes and improvements” following the EIS and Unison findings.

She said: “I’m very pleased to see this piece of research that has given us quite valuable and statistically robust information. I’m very encouraged that some work has already been done by officers to move this forward. Three quarters of staff are reporting verbal abuse in the last year. I’m concerned that staff feel that this is almost part of their job.”

The committee unanimously backed the motion.

Education, children and families convener, Cllr Ian Perry said: “In my discussions with headteachers, nobody is saying inclusion is the wrong thing to do but we need to get it right.

“EIS has signalled these are the issues and they need to be tackled. Some of these issues are not easy to tackle – there’s no one solution, however, we need to do better.”