A SHOCKING toll of attacks by children as young as four on teachers in the Capital has been revealed today.
New figures show there were 1278 physical assaults against staff working in schools across Edinburgh and the Lothians in the last academic year, with a dislocated jaw among the more serious injuries inflicted.
Attacks involving scissors, chairs and even a knife were recorded, as well as incidents of pupils kicking, punching, headbutting and biting teachers, with numerous examples of clumps of staff members’ hair being pulled out.
At a special school in the city, a behavioural assistant was bitten so badly on the arms that a tetanus injection was required.
Today, unions said more needed to be done to protect teachers and other children in the schools, as it emerged staff had been subjected to around six attacks every day between August 2011 and June this year.
Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, branded the figures a “shocking indictment of what’s happening in schools”.
In Edinburgh, there were 576 assaults on teaching staff, the majority of which – 480 – took place in special schools, while a total of 88 attacks were recorded against staff in primary schools and four in secondary schools.
Two incidents were also recorded at nurseries in the Capital, which involved children biting, hitting, kicking and nipping.
Ms Ballinger said having fewer staff in primary schools to “contain very difficult behaviour” may be a possible explanation for the surprising difference in figures between primary and secondary schools.
Primary school attacks were also far higher than in secondary schools in the 2010 figures, with 85 violent incidents in city primary schools and 11 in secondary schools.
Ms Ballinger also claimed Edinburgh and Lothian councils were failing in their duties.
“An assault, however minor, is dreadful because it’s an attack on someone at their work,” she said. “It’s wholly unacceptable that anyone should go to work and be assaulted but these figures, particularly for Edinburgh and East Lothian, are a shocking indictment of what’s happening in schools.
“The damage is not just to teachers, it’s to the young people who are having to work in that environment and see these attacks taking place.”
She added: “The physical injuries are important but what’s most important is the psychological effect that kind of bullying behaviour has, not only on the teachers, but on other pupils who are witnessing it.”
As well as almost 600 assaults on teaching staff in the Capital, a total of 483 attacks took place in East Lothian schools, 201 in West Lothian and 18 in Midlothian.
Details obtained through the Freedom of Information request revealed attacks involving a rolling pin, egg timer and tree branch, with several assaults coming out of the blue.
Among the more severe injuries inflicted was a fractured and dislocated thumb, suffered by a behavioural assistant at a special school in the city after being kicked by a pupil who was not happy at being asked to hand a football over.
At another special school in Edinburgh, a teacher had her jaw dislocated and teeth chipped after being headbutted by a pupil.
Tina Woolnough, Edinburgh representative on the National Parent Forum of Scotland said: “I’m not always convinced that local authorities give mainstream schools as much support as they need, or give the children enough support to manage their behaviour. I’m asking for local authorities to look really closely to see that they are putting all the support in place to help these schools to help young people and children manage their behaviour.”
Meanwhile, the city’s education leader, councillor Paul Godzik, pointed out that more than 83 per cent of the incidents took place in special schools, where pupils have a range of additional support needs. He added: “Unfortunately, the reality is that incidents of aggression do happen in our schools. We take this issue very seriously and work with individuals and families to address this behaviour.”
Alison Thornton, Edinburgh EIS Secretary, said any attack was “one attack too many”.
“The EIS view any attack on a teacher as being unacceptable and so we have a zero tolerance policy on this issue,” she said. “The City of Edinburgh Council, as an employer, has a duty to ensure all our school staff and pupils have a safe environment to work and learn in.”
In addition to the 483 assaults in East Lothian schools, 2900 “very minor” incidents such as pushing a staff member, grabbing hair or throwing things around were recorded at a base – situated within Ross High School in Tranent – for secondary pupils with additional support needs.
A spokeswoman for East Lothian Council said: “We are required to record all incidents of physical contact as ‘assault’, even though many of these incidents were accidental or actions not intended to harm.
All staff are aware of the need to record such incidents so that we are able to ensure appropriate support for both staff members and pupils.”
A West Lothian Council spokesman added: “Assaults on any of our staff are completely unacceptable.
“We are working with the whole school community to reduce incidents through our Safe Environment at School policy.”
Midlothian Council was not able to provide a response, despite recording the smallest number of assaults on teachers by pupils in the Lothians.
Testing times in the classroom
Edinburgh primary: Pupil lost temper when asked to follow teacher’s instructions. He kicked, punched and spat, as well as headbutting his teacher to the body and face.
Edinburgh primary: Without warning, child put his hands around learning assistant’s neck and said: “I’m going to choke you.” Learning assistant suffered red marks to neck.
Edinburgh primary: Child became violent, was removed from classroom and attacked the depute head teacher. Scratches on depute head’s arms, drawing blood, and bruising to legs.
Edinburgh primary: Pupil didn’t want to do work, wiped his nose on learning assistant’s hair and, on way to see headteacher, struck her hard on the back, which was already sore from a separate injury. Impact caused muscles to contract.
Edinburgh primary: The pupil being supported by learning assistant was asked to tidy up the activity he was doing. He got angry and threw an egg timer at her face, resulting in a sore cheekbone.
West Lothian nursery: Pupil headbutted nursery nurse when she was assisting with putting shoes on.
West Lothian primary: Child running around classroom, throwing things. Support assistant and teacher removed child from class. He hit, punched and kicked teacher on the knee, where teacher suffers from arthritis. Teacher suffered a swollen, bruised knee at the time, with sore hip feeling as though it was popping out of place, meaning they couldn’t walk.
Special School examples:
West Lothian: Pupil had a branch in his hand. He hit pupil support worker across the face and scratched right eye. Right eye had small scratches on eyebrow and eyelid. Inside of eye had twisted blood vessel.
West Lothian: Pupil was rolling out dough with small wooden rolling pin when another pupil distracted the support worker. The first pupil hit the support worker with force on side of head with rolling pin. Swelling and bruising at side of left eye. Eye very sore, bloodshot with twitch occurring in both eyes.
Edinburgh: As teacher moved away, pupil grabbed colleague’s hair with both hands and twisted and pulled her backwards and down. It took four people two minutes for him to release the hair. Handfuls of hair, neck cracked audibly twice, and painful neck and back resulted.
Edinburgh: Pupil had become extremely excited and started to physically attack staff. Behavioural assistant bitten several times on arms, kicked and punched, spat at and scratched. Required a tetanus shot.
Edinburgh: While learning assistant was helping another child at the dining table, pupil reached out and pulled learning assistant’s hair. She told him she was going to ignore this, at which point he stood up, then the learning assistant felt something at her left ear. She realised this was not his nails but his knife, which the pupil used for lunch and had a serrated edge. Graze to the side of ear.
Edinburgh: Pupil became agitated when asked to complete some group work. He then slapped teacher and made vocalisations to indicate that he was stressed. Teacher used a calm hold to take pupil to the “safe space” to calm down. While moving, pupil headbutted teacher and, as she moved her face to avoid the contact, he caught her jawline. She attended hospital with dislocation of jaw, bruised soft tissue, swollen ear canal, chipped teeth and shock.