Violent attacks by pupils on teachers in Scotland’s schools have contributed to almost a quarter of a million pounds being paid out in compensation settlements over the past year, figures released today reveal.
Instances cited by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), Scotland’s largest teaching union, include a £12,000 violence claim awarded to a teacher who was assaulted twice by pupils.
The union claimed that as a consequence of the injuries and trauma, and lack of support provided, the teacher suffered severe anxiety and stress, preventing a return to the school.
In another incident a teacher was dealing with a pupil with a history of violence who began screaming and shouting before picking up a chair with what looked like the intention of aiming it at other children in the classroom.
The teacher attempted to protect the pupils in his class and intervened by placing himself between the pupil and the other children. The teacher was then hit by the chair on the right arm, resulting in bruising and swelling. The teacher received a compensation payout of £5,309.
Iain Gray MSP, Scottish Labour education spokesman, described the figures as “deeply troubling” and called on the Scottish Government to launch an urgent investigation.
Earlier this year Kevin Campbell, president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said many pupils behaving badly believe they will not be punished and blamed poverty and budget cuts for such behaviour reaching unprecedented levels.
The highest compensation award this year was a £50,000 stress claim paid to a teacher who had been signed off work with work related stress and depression.
It was found that the council involved had failed to manage the health and return to work process for the teacher who eventually ran out of sick pay and resigned.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, said while the compensation paid out in 2018 was far lower than the £450,000 awarded in 2017, he was aiming for “zero” compensation awards.
Mr Flanagan also raised fears Brexit could affect the UK’s health and safety legislation to the detriment of safety in schools, colleges and universities.
“It is cold comfort reporting on the amounts of injury compensation that the EIS has secured for its members over the course of the year,” Mr Flanagan said.
“Whilst the sums involved represent success for the EIS in pursuing appropriate compensation for injuries suffered at work, our desire is to eventually report a zero figure for compensation in the future owing to the elimination of these types of work-related injuries.”
“The decrease in compensation settlements in 2018, compared to the previous year, marks an improvement in the safety of Scotland’s educational establishments; however, there is still a long way to go towards the aim of eliminating workplace injuries in our schools, colleges and universities altogether.
“The most common cause of injuries remains ‘slips, trips and falls’. These types of incidents are entirely avoidable with correct adherence to appropriate health and safety procedures in the workplace. Schools, colleges and universities will never be entirely risk free but it is essential that all facilities are as safe as possible for learners and staff alike.”
Mr Flanagan also expressed concern on possible Brexit related changes to health and safety legislation in the near future.
“Many valuable workplace protections that we enjoy today are the result of EU legislation. Once the UK has left the EU, these protections may well come under attack from the UK government.”
“It is important, also, to emphasise the valuable role that unions such as the EIS play in standing up for employment rights and the health and wellbeing of employees. The EIS will continue to do all that it can to defend its members in an increasingly challenging political environment.”
Mr Gray said: “These figures are deeply troubling. Teachers should not have to worry about being injured at work - yet these figures show it is happening all too often.
“While it is welcome the EIS has secured compensation for victims of poor health and safety, the reality is these incidents should not be happening in the first place.
“The very least teachers deserve is a safe environment to work in and the SNP government should urgently investigate these figures.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Every pupil and teacher should feel safe from harm at school and in their community which is why we share the view of the EIS that our aim is to eliminate workplace injuries.
“Local authorities have a statutory responsibility to maintain their schools to a safe and sufficient standard.”