Leading article

Teachers facing pupil violence need support

Aggression and anti-social behaviour are unfortunately all too prevalent in our society, with frontline workers often at the sharp end of unacceptable conduct.

We regularly hear of physical and verbal abuse being directed at ambulance crews, hospital staff, firefighters and others performing a crucial service on behalf of the public.

The people who attack these key workers are frequently under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Even so, there can be no possible excuse for violent or intimidatory behaviour and many workplaces now operate a zero tolerance policy in relation to abusive behaviour.

As we know, it is not just adults who exhibit worrying levels of violence.

Teaching unions in Northern Ireland have been detailing the increasing levels of physical and verbal abuse being experienced in the classroom.

Ulster Teachers' Union general secretary Avril Hall Callaghan has told how pregnant teachers have been kicked and staff left needing tetanus injections after being bitten by pupils who drew blood.

She described how when one teacher attended her GP on an unrelated matter, the doctor saw the cuts, bruises and scrapes she had suffered and thought she was the victim of domestic abuse.

According to the NASUWT, teachers are reporting assaults on a daily basis.

We can well imagine the impact such violence has on teachers who come into the classroom every day to educate our young people and do not know what sort of violent outbursts they might face.

Clearly, it must take its toll and Ms Hall Callaghan says some teachers have had to retire because of the damage to their health.

The increasing level of assaults has to be a matter of serious concern.

Ms Hall Callaghan has pointed to the growing number of pupils with complex learning and behavioural challenges who are being placed in mainstream education without adequate support.

Meanwhile, Chris Keates of the NASUWT says employers need to take a zero tolerance approach to violence.

This is obviously an issue that needs to be addressed by the education authorities who cannot ignore the mounting problem of violence in the classroom.

Reducing budgets and cutting specialist support services can only add to the challenges facing teachers who clearly need support - not just from employers but also parents - in tackling this widespread problem.

However, we know that the financial position in terms of education is bleak.

This week schools were given their budget allocations and told they would not get money for additional pressures this year.

Principals are faced with extremely tough choices and in the absence of an executive it is difficult to see how the situation might change.

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