Staff refuse to teach ‘violent’ pupils at Edinburgh special school

Kaimes Special School. Picture: TSPL
Kaimes Special School. Picture: TSPL
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Teachers at an Edinburgh special school have been sent home with no pay after refusing to look after pupils who they claim have subjected them to a litany of assault and abuse.

In what is believed to be a first in Scotland, a union has accused the city council of “bullying and intimidating” staff as 11 teachers at Kaimes School in Liberton are refusing to provide lessons to eight pupils over physical and verbal assaults.

Violent attacks by students are understood to have included chairs and signs being thrown at teachers, causing injuries with police called in.

The situation is so serious that Education secretary John Swinney is due to meet union leaders today.

A school source has spoken to the Evening News about the “chaos” that erupted last week over the pupils’ behaviour, which the union say has left them no choice but to down tools.

The teachers in question are members of the NASUWT union, which earlier this year balloted for industrial action short of a strike by refusing to teach or supervise eight pupils who they believe pose a risk to health, safety and welfare. The move is believed to be a first in Scotland.

“They refused to teach them because they’d been assaulted so many times”, said a school source. “There’s just no control.” The eight students are understood to have spent last week in a class together with seven pupil support assistants.

“The headteacher told the teachers on Monday morning they weren’t allowed in the school. This is the first time this has ever happened in Scotland. A teacher has refused to teach one kid before but never eight,” added the school source.

But an Edinburgh City Council source said the issue was a red line that was “discriminating against disabled children”. They added: “You cannot pick and choose which disabled children you provide a service for”.

Union bosses are set to meet with education secretary John Swinney tomorrow about the situation, after negotiations with the council broke down.

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, labelled the council’s action as “one of the most disturbing cases I have ever experienced of an employer failing in its duty of care”.

She said: “The teachers, and indeed other pupils at the school have, month after month, faced violent physical assaults, a constant stream of verbal abuse and threats and malicious allegations. Equipment has been smashed and classrooms trashed.

“Rather than supporting the teachers to deal with these pupils, Edinburgh City Council instead has embarked on a campaign of aggressive and punitive actions towards the teachers, simply because they have dared to stand up for what is right.”

Staff experienced with working with children with special needs have been brought in to cover the absentees. The council is appealing for the union to come back to the negotiation table and has written to parents to update them on the situation.

A council spokesman said: “As a local authority, we have a duty to provide education to all children in Edinburgh. We are also committed to ensuring our teachers and other staff are fully supported to deliver the excellent level of education children and young people have a right to expect.

“We continually review how we can support our teachers in what at times can be challenging places to work. An improvement action plan for Kaimes School has been developed in consultation with staff and subject to external expert scrutiny. This is in the very early stages of being implemented and would urge everyone to work with us as we take this plan forward.

“The council has been trying to engage with NASUWT at all levels to discuss any concerns they have and we are disappointed that they have failed to respond positively to date and decided on this course of action. We cannot have a situation where staff decide who they are and who they are not willing to teach as this would be contrary to their terms of employment.

“We remain committed to working with staff to ensure we improve attainment and wellbeing while also delivering a positive working environment for both teachers and pupils. This is part of the council’s commitment to put inclusion at the heart of everything we do and we want the staff involved and the NASUWT to sit down with us as soon as possible to resolve this situation.”