Violence in schools now seen as ‘just part of the job’

Alison Murphy, Edinburgh EIS Secretary.
Alison Murphy, Edinburgh EIS Secretary.
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Almost a third of nursery nurses and pupil support assistants in Edinburgh do not feel safe at work, according to a survey on violence by unions.

The research by Unison and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) found more than half said they witnessed violence daily or several times per day, while 48.7 per cent had directly experienced violence at least once a week.

The unions have presented the council with an 11-point plan to tackle the issue of violence in the city’s primary, secondary and special schools.

But Alison Murphy, local secretary of the EIS, stressed they were not blaming the pupils.

She said: “We are not demonising pupils. These incidents are happening for a range of reasons, but under-resourcing is a key one.

“We are not being given the resources, time or training to meet their needs. Staff are left to manage the consequences of that – and too often the consequences are physical violence or verbal assault.

“Some of it is children who would previously have been in special schools and are now in mainstream. But we are not saying we don’t want them in mainstream [schools]. We want them in mainstream, but with adequate resources.”

The survey of 1378 staff found seven out of 10 nursery nurses and pupil support assistants and more than half of teaching staff feel suffering violence is seen as “part of the job” by employers.

The unions’ 11-point plan includes better training and staffing levels, better support for staff and better recording of incidents, better risk assessments, and targeted action where there are particular problems.

Ms Murphy said: “Whilst it is important to remember that most pupils in our schools are well behaved and engaged with learning, there are, unfortunately, a minority whose behaviour is proving increasingly difficult, or impossible to manage. This is a consequence of ‘inclusion on the cheap’.

“At exactly the same time as we started moving children with increasingly complex medical, social, emotional or learning needs into mainstream classes, we embarked on a decade of cuts in resourcing and staffing that makes it impossible to meet these children’s needs.

“The impact on staff who must try to manage this, on the other children who daily witness violent outbursts and whose teachers cannot meet their needs because of constant crisis management, is severe.

“Maybe worst of all is the dreadful impact on these children themselves, whose behaviour is often a result of severe distress, and who need skilled, well-resourced and appropriately-focused help to enable them to overcome their many challenges but who are, instead, being failed by a system that is beyond breaking point.”

Graham Neal, Unison Edinburgh branch’s communities and families vice-convener, said that there were complex reasons behind pupils’ violent behaviour.

But he said: “With a third of staff not feeling safe at work and 70 per cent feeling the ­employer just sees violence as part of the job, there is a real crisis here that the council must face up to.

“Our members are committed to the children they work with but we need greater clarity about what happens when schools cannot meet the needs of a child.

“We are calling for a review of the criteria for placing children in special schools and schools need to be properly staffed to deal with actual intake.

“Most of all we need the council to recognise the problem and be clear that violence is not ‘part of the job’ and ensure that our members are given the support to manage these difficult situations.”

Education convener Ian Perry said the survey provided additional insight into an issue which was already an upmost priority for the council.

He said: “We already have a far-reaching training programme in our schools which includes restorative approaches, positive behaviour management strategies and autism-friendly practice and includes support from our education psychologists and Additional Support for Learning teams.

“With our strategies for Getting it Right for Every Child we have pupil planning meetings to support those children in need.

“Clearly we need to do more. As a start we are looking at our proactive approaches to prevention and de-escalating incidents.

“In the meantime we will not hesitate to take action to protect our staff so there is a safe learning environment for everyone.

“I am committed to working with the trade unions and all our staff to getting this right.”