Education news

Violent attacks on teachers by pupils soaring, conference hears

Teachers are gathering for the annual Ulster Teachers Union conference at Slieve Donard in Newcastle

PREGNANT teachers have been kicked and staff left needing tetanus jabs after being attacked by pupils, a conference will hear.

Violence against teachers is becoming ingrained in the fabric of school life in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) claims.

In one instance, a doctor thought a teacher had been a victim of domestic abuse after repeated attacks by pupils in a special school.

Members of the UTU are gathering for their annual conference in Newcastle this weekend.

They will debate motions on issues including pay, school finances and inspections.

UTU general secretary Avril Hall Callaghan said she would be surprised if there was "a single class in Northern Ireland where some form for of higher or lower grade violence hasn't been displayed against a teacher".

In post offices, doctors' surgeries and A&E departments, she said, notices of zero tolerance of abuse against staff are visible.

"The culture is that people should simply not be expected to put up with verbal or physical attack in the course of their work; the culture is to report such incidents and the consequences for the perpetrator are serious," she said.

"The situation in schools, though, is worryingly at odds yet the instances of such violence are increasing in regularity and severity. However, because of the nurturing vocation of the profession and the resilience of teachers they simply put up with it - regardless of injury or debilitation.

"When one of our members attended her GP about an unrelated matter, the doctor saw her injuries – cuts, finger grab bruises and scrapes - and thought she was a victim of domestic abuse. That's the level of injury we’re talking about.

"Teachers have had to get tetanus injections after being bitten by pupils who drew blood; they've brushed out literally handfuls of hair having been grabbed by an out-of-control student; and we’ve even had cases of pregnant teachers being attacked."

Ms Hall Callaghan said such attacks are increasing because oa growing number of pupils with increasingly complex learning and behavioural challenges are being placed in the mainstream without adequate support.

"These young people are frustrated, often through no fault of their own. That plays out in violent outbursts and teachers - ill-equipped and not trained for such special situations - are at the receiving end," she said.

"The children are usually as much victims in these scenarios as our members - the blame lies with the funding authorities who refuse to provide appropriate training and support for these children.

"Yet again, it's the teachers who get the blame and bear the brunt while the faceless bureaucrats hide behind letterheads and the politicians clock up yet another month of inactivity. Teachers have had to retire because of this type of violence, their mental and/or physical health irreparably damaged."

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TEACHERS are worth no more than a tin of pop and bag of crisps, the leader of the UTU will tell members today.

All main teaching unions withdrew cooperation with inspectors as part of industrial action which began last January.

They rejected a pay offer that would see staff receive no across-the-board pay rise for 2015/16, and a 1 per cent cost of living uplift for 2016/17.

Unions have since submitted a claim for a 5 per cent cost-of-living pay rise.

"What’s £1.14 worth today? A tin of pop and a bag of crisps, a deodorant, a watery coffee in a greasy spoon, if you’re lucky - and a teacher, apparently," Avril Hall Callaghan said.

"For that is the paltry average sum which employers have offered us as a pay rise. A primary school principal, for instance, will find themselves better off to the tune of about £1.15 a day. There are no winners at any level.

"Not only is this salary increase ludicrously small compared with those offered colleagues elsewhere in the UK, it is an insult to our profession.

"It is for this reason, as well as job insecurity and mounting workload, that we have been involved in industrial action short of strike for over a year now yet the inertia in that time on the part of the employers has been deplorable."

While teachers are seeking more money, the entire education system is under financial strain.

The Education Authority (EA) has refused to authorise budgets for 632 schools, saying they were unable to show how they could avoid going into the red.

There have also been warnings that the entire system is facing a funding gap of £350m by 2020.

"We have had to stand by as an Education Authority was put in place which has tried to establish the structures it needed to run a 21st century education service – while receiving 19th century levels of funding," Ms Hall Callaghan said.

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