Facing aggression at the chalkface


More than half of education staff have faced aggression from students in the last year according to new research, sparking calls for schools to ensure behaviour policies are robust. Pete Henshaw reports.

During the last academic year, 57 per cent of staff in state schools have faced aggression from a student, according to new research.

Furthermore, 27 per cent have experienced aggression from a student’s parents or carers.

The survey of more than 1,500 teachers and education staff was conducted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and ITV regional news.

For 45 per cent of the victims, the student aggression spilled over into physical violence, with staff reporting being pushed and shoved, kicked or punched. Some said students had used objects such as furniture to harm them.

Meanwhile, 84 per cent said that they had been verbally insulted and 70 per cent had been intimidated or threatened.

In light of the findings, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, has urged all schools to ensure they have “firm and consistent” discipline policies in place.

The consequences of these incidents have also been spelt out by the research, with 60 per cent of staff experiencing a “loss of confidence” and 34 per cent saying the incidents had led to mental health difficulties, such as stress, anxiety or depression.

A third of the victims said they had refused to teach the pupil concerned after the incident.

The research revealed an array of disturbing and often violent incidents.

One supply teacher from East Yorkshire told researchers how a pupil emptied the contents of a syringe into her face before running off. Thankfully it turned out to be water. 

She said: “The pupil was in school the next day and wasn’t even asked to apologise.”

Meanwhile, a behaviour manager in a secondary school in London described how a student threatened to stab them with a pair of scissors, while a secondary teacher in Berkshire was physically prevented from leaving the room by a student.

Elsewhere, a secondary teacher in an academy in Leicestershire said that “pushing, close physical proximity and refusing to move, trying to push past” were regular occurrences.

Of those staff who had experienced aggression from parents or carers, 80 per cent said it took the form of verbal insults, 60 per cent said it was intimidation, such as threats, while four per cent had faced physical violence.

Overall, half of the respondents feel that the behaviour of students has gotten worse in the past five years, with 40 per cent having considered leaving the profession because of poor behaviour.

Forty per cent said they think the behaviour of parents or carers has got worse over the last two and five years.

Of those teachers who reported an incident of aggression against them, 37 per cent said they were “totally happy” with the way their school or college dealt with it. 

Furthermore, half of respondents reported that their school or college has risk-assessments in place for particular students.

However, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said that poor behaviour is a “daily reality” for many.

She said: “It is shocking that almost 60 per cent of education staff have faced aggression from a student in the last year. 

“No member of staff should be subjected to aggressive behaviour, in any form, while doing their job.

“Sadly, although the vast majority of students are well-behaved and a pleasure to teach, poor behaviour is now a daily reality for most staff. Many students have chaotic home lives that would cause most adults to lose their temper occasionally.

“As well as having to be experts in their own subject, teachers also need to be psychologists and behavioural experts. It’s amazing that so much excellent work is done behind the scenes day-in, day-out, to help students stay on track.

“Schools need to have firm and consistent discipline policies and work with parents to keep schools and colleges safe places for students and staff alike.”

Tales of chalkface aggression

“In the past two years I have had two children permanently excluded from my class due to violent behaviour towards others. Both cases were linked to mental health issues, and it seems that we are experiencing more children struggling with these than ever before.”
“I experienced students pushing, close physical proximity and refusing to move, trying to push past (large group, mob mentality, trying to get to another student and we were in the way).”
“A student threatened to stab me in my stomach with a very sharp pair of scissors."
“In the last year I’ve experienced parents telling lies and spreading untruths and believing their child is incapable of wrongdoing.”
“A student physically refused to let me leave a classroom."
“The minority of poorly behaved students are making it impossible to teach the majority of students well.”
“During a parents’ evening a parent launched a verbal attack saying that I had made her children’s lives a misery. I just had to carry on as if nothing happened.”
“I found it a challenge to ask a father to leave because he was swearing at staff.”
“A pupil emptied the contents of a syringe (it turned out to be water) in my face and ran off.”
“Being sworn at seems to be relatively normal.”


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