Fears of ‘normalisation’ of abuse of school staff in Tayside and Fife

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Hundreds of incidents of assault on school staff have occurred in Tayside and Fife last school year — including assaults with guns.

A union delegate says that persistently elevated personalities fear that they have “normalized” physical and verbal abuse towards student teachers.

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Dundee EIS Secretary David Baxter says recently released figures showing incidents of physical and verbal abuse towards teachers from pupils are “very high”.

843 incidents of teacher abuse of pupils were reported in Dundee schools last academic year, 659 in Angus schools and in Perth this number was 597.

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Each region recorded a decrease in accidents compared to the previous two years.

However, David says those numbers are distorted by two periods of closure, distance learning and ongoing school restrictions.

“The reality is that there are still numbers, there are still accidents, and even through two periods of distance learning we still have big numbers,” he said.

Weapons and injuries to teachers

A breakdown of the numbers, gained through Freedom of Information requests, revealed that there were 32 assaults on school staff by armed pupils in Dundee last year and 106 assaults with improvised weapons.

There were 146 assaults on school staff by pupils resulting in staff injuries in Angus.

The Fife, Perth, and Kinross boards did not disclose such levels of detail in their responses.

David, from EIS, said: “These numbers are very high. We want to see measures to get it as close to zero as possible.

David Baxter, EIS.

“The concern we have is that these numbers are constantly high, and there is a normalization that this is part of the job but it is not – no one is trained to be threatened with weapons or temporary weapons.

“We need to see improvements. A teacher’s work environment is a child’s learning environment and something that affects them.”

Mike Corbett, National Officer for the Teaching Consortium at NASUWT Scotland, added that transparency when dealing with such incidents is key to maintaining best practices.

He said: “We have had incidents (across Scotland) where a weapon was taken to school or stolen from a technology class and that information is not shared with staff.

“They could end up looking through the back door, or someone got disqualified when their name goes off the record for 10 days.

“Information must be shared with employees properly, otherwise it leads to a lot of anxiety.”

Mike Corbett, from NASUWT Scotland.

Mike, who was previously a high school teacher for 26 years, is also keen to encourage employees to report abuse saying that underreporting of incidents was a matter of concern before the pandemic.

“Consistently high numbers”

In the 2018-2019 school year, there were 1,160 incidents of physical or verbal assault on school staff by pupils in Dundee, 1,006 in Angus, 1,257 in Perth, and 141 in Fife.

The following year – when schools were closed for 60 of the usual 190 school days due to the closure – the numbers were 684 in Dundee, 576 in Angus, 935 in Perth and 270 in Fife.

Last school year – when schools were again disrupted by lockdown, closing their doors to all students for 30 days and then phasing back over 15 days – numbers shot up in Dundee and Angus.

However, reported incidents in Perth are down compared to the previous year, and Fife numbers for the 2020-21 school year are not available until December.

Robust support and reporting processes

A Dundee City Council spokesperson said: “Teachers are encouraged to report incidents and we are working closely with them to provide support.

“Any incidents are always taken very seriously and we always investigate the circumstances of what happened.

“School staff should be able to do their job without fear of abuse at any time.”

A spokeswoman for Perth and Kinross Council added: “The vast majority of children and youth in our schools are well-behaved, and as a council, no incident of violence and aggression between pupils or against school staff is tolerated.

“The care and well-being of both our students and staff is a priority for us.

“To this end, robust reporting and support processes are in place for such circumstances – any incident reported is investigated and appropriate action taken.”

An Angus Council spokeswoman said: “Angus Council does not tolerate abuse of its staff in any form it takes. There are procedures in place to allow staff to report such matters either internally or, where appropriate, to the police.”

The Fife Council has also been contacted for comment.

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