Violence in Edinburgh schools at breaking point as EIS union blames austerity

Teaching staff in the Capital are facing high levels violence and abuse as the EIS union has appealed for support staff to be protected following 10 years of austerity and budget cuts.

Thursday, 12th December 2019, 6:00 am
The goal of integrating children with special needs into mainstream education has left some teachers at the end of their tether. Picture: Getty
The goal of integrating children with special needs into mainstream education has left some teachers at the end of their tether. Picture: Getty

Teaching unions have warned that school staff in Edinburgh “are experiencing levels of violence that no-one should have to face at work” – with the blame being put on austerity and funding cuts.

Edinburgh organisers from the EIS union have revealed research that shows 53 per cent of their members in the Capital believe violence, verbal abuse or threats are accepted as part of the job by senior staff. The study also revealed that 16 per cent do not generally feel safe at work and more than 40 per cent are anxious of entering some classrooms due to fear of violence.

In the second annual piece of research by EIS, teaching staff gave examples of violence including being “slapped across the face” and “punched repeatedly in the stomach”.

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EIS local association secretary, Alison Murphy, appealed to Edinburgh City Council’s education, children and families committee to take the issues of violence seriously when next year’s budget is agreed.

She said: “A lot of work has been done – it is good to say there has been some improvement. It’s still clear that on the ground, the experience of a huge number of teachers is that their actual experience of violent incidents is either the same or has in fact increased.

“While we use the term violence, in the majority of cases it is distressed behaviour of children who do not have the support that they need, for a whole host of reasons. It also has massive impacts for the other children in the class.

“Staff in Edinburgh are, in many cases, experiencing levels of violence that no-one should have to face at work.”

She added: “We do not feel that this is down primarily just to failures of the City of Edinburgh Council. We have had a decade of austerity at exactly the same time as we have had a massive increase in demands placed on schools. Other authorities are experiencing exactly the same.

“It’s incredibly important to think about the impact that cuts have already had on this. The front-line services can only work if there is correct support. What we are suffering now is the consequence of a decade of those cuts. The system is creaking, it is starting to crack. Very soon it is going to break.”

The survey, completed by almost 1,000 EIS members, also revealed that only half of those asked are satisfied with the management of violence in their school and around 40 per cent receive feedback on incidents they have reported. Only 40 per cent of EIS members are confident that their concerns will be taken seriously.

Cllr Ian Perry, the council’s education convener, said: “It is completely unacceptable for dedicated staff in our schools to feel that violence, verbal abuse and threats are part of their job. At the same time the EIS presented their initial survey findings last year we were setting up a violence at work group to tackle this very issue.

“I welcome the positive comments from union’s representative, Alison Murphy, yesterday where she said progress is being made although we all acknowledge there is still some way to go particularly in our special school provision where children can present challenging behaviour.

“Clearly we all need to do more as our ultimate aim is to prevent these violent incidents happening in the first place. I am committed to working with the trade unions and all our staff to getting this right.”

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