The Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU), which has about 6,000 members in Northern Ireland schools, says that underlying issues must be tackled in order to make teachers’ and pupils’ lives safer.
UTU general secretary Avril Hall Callaghan told the union’s annual conference in Newcastle, Co Down, that action must be taken to prevent costs to the public purse.
Ms Hall Callaghan says people talk about a so-called compensation culture as a negative thing.
When a teacher is no longer able to work because of an incident at work, however, then “they must seek redress, quite simply, to survive”, she added.
“The sad fact is that we are receiving a growing number of calls from teachers who have come face-to-face with increasingly violent situations,” she explained.
“We must have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to this behaviour but the underlying causes must also be dealt with.”
There is no one reason why these incidents are growing, she added, but said that certainly among the contributing factors is a cultural shift in how society views education.
Ms Hall Callaghan continued: “Also the fact that so many more children with very specific learning needs are now in the mainstream education system, yet the resources for them and the teachers just aren’t there.
“Time and again we listen to members traumatised by their experiences of indiscipline and violence – most commonly pushing and shoving, but sometimes being attacked with an object such as furniture, and being kicked and punched.”
In one incident, three teachers were ordered off the school premises on a Friday afternoon and suspended for a period of almost three months, the conference heard.
“When their alleged offences were investigated they were immediately reinstated but at this point they have been unable to return due to the trauma they experienced,” Ms Hall Callaghan explained.
“Northern Ireland is not the only country in the world whose pupils are not perfectly socialised or committed to learning.
“However, what is not helpful is the suggestion that any deficits in classroom are due to poor teaching, which all too often seems to be the default scapegoat setting.”