Northern Ireland news

Survey of education workers reveals scale of violence inside schools

83 per cent of staff said they had been verbally abused in the classroom

ONE in five education workers are physically abused once a week, a survey has found.

Unions are urging the Department of Education to take action to tackle rising levels of violence in schools.

A survey of members of nine unions representing teachers and support staff revealed that attacks were common.

The findings have been released today by the NIC-ICTU Education Trade Union Group.

Almost 1,500 members of ICTU-affiliated unions in the north responded, the majority of them teachers.

The survey found:

:: One in three education workers experience physical abuse annually

:: One in five receive physical abuse once a week

:: 83 per cent have been verbally abused in the classroom

:: 45 per cent of verbal abusers are parents

:: 88 per cent of special education teachers have received verbal or physical abuse

It further found 95 per cent of support staff, including classroom assistants, had been assaulted.

The consistent view of all unions representing education workers was that it was a reasonable expectation that schools should be safe places with robust mechanisms to protect pupils and staff.

Denise Walker, chairwoman of the NIC-ICTU Education Group, said everyone expected and was entitled to go to work free from the threat of physical violence.

"But if you work in one of Northern Ireland's schools in a support role, you could be one of the 51 per cent who have been subjected to a physical incident at work," she said.

"With only 34 per cent of victims receiving any form of support and action taken in only 22 per cent of incidents, our support staff are feeling exposed and unsupported.

"The Education Authority and Department of Education must act now to eradicate the threat of violence in our schools."

Vice-chair and NASUWT member Maxine Murphy-Higgins said the figures were "truly shocking".

"Just over 55 per cent of primary school teachers have been assaulted at work while almost 90 per cent of special school teachers have been assaulted," she said.

"But any discussion of violent and disruptive behaviour in schools has to be put in the context of the budget cuts that are happening in Northern Ireland. Schools are losing the specialist support that they did have to work with vulnerable younger people, class sizes are getting bigger and there are not enough resources being put into supporting pupils with special educational needs.

"In many schools, teachers and support staff receive little or no support when they are assaulted and in a minority of schools the first reaction of management is to blame the staff member for the assault. Attitudes like this lead to under-reporting of incidents of management and heighten the risk of more serious assaults in future."?

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