UK

We are ‘walking into unknown’ every day in ‘really dangerous’ job, says teacher

Teacher Wendy Exton said she had he has witnessed a surge in ‘unacceptable’ behaviour from pupils (PA)
Teacher Wendy Exton said she had he has witnessed a surge in ‘unacceptable’ behaviour from pupils (PA) Teacher Wendy Exton said she had he has witnessed a surge in ‘unacceptable’ behaviour from pupils (PA)

A teacher with nearly 30 years of experience has said the career that she once loved has become “dangerous” as she has witnessed a surge in “unacceptable” behaviour from pupils and parents including verbal and physical confrontation.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said the impact of the broken social contract between parents and schools can be seen in “lower school attendance, poorer behaviour and friction between parents and schools”.

The watchdog’s annual report, which looks at the state of education and social care in England in the 2022/23 academic year, suggests some parents are “increasingly willing to challenge” schools on their policies and rules.

Ofsted report
Ofsted report Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Wendy Exton, 51, a teacher who works as a national executive member of the teachers’ union the NASUWT, said pupil disruption has escalated from “chatting” in class to “violent, aggressive, confrontational behaviour” in recent years.

“What used to be disruption that you’d put up with as a teacher – chatting or a bit of backchat here or there – has now become quite violent, aggressive, confrontational behaviour,” Ms Exton told the PA news agency.

“There’s a mix of verbal and physical confrontation, and we’re seeing more sexualised behaviour – real derogatory, sexualised terms and aggression that we didn’t have in the past.”

Ms Exton had been teaching 11 to 16-year-olds at an alternative provision school for around 10 years when she started noticing an alarming increase in school violence.

She said she had faced a tirade of mental and physical abuse from pupils who would spit on her and threaten to rape her, and in September 2021, after being diagnosed with PTSD, she felt she had no choice but to hand in her notice at the school, which has not been named to protect the pupils’ identities.

“Those of us who went into teaching many years ago are seeing a job that we loved and we used to enjoy turn into what has become really, really dangerous, because you’re walking into the unknown every single day, and you don’t know what’s going to be thrown at you,” she said.

“This is part of the reason we’ve got the recruitment crisis, because good teachers have just had enough and said ‘you know what, I’m not putting up with it any more’.

“It’s sad in a way, it really is, because teaching is one of the most rewarding careers, but sadly, it’s not that any more.”

According to the report, “there is less respect for the principle of a full-time education” across society, and “overall absence and persistent and severe absences are all too high”.

It states that the “fractured” social contract between families and schools – where parents ensured their children were in class daily – could take years to rebuild fully.

Ms Exton agreed, stating that the lack of engagement with parents is one of the most shocking aspects for her.

Through her work with the NASUWT, she has shared how parents are now “willing to attack teachers” and “side with the pupil”, giving teachers “limited powers within the classroom”.

“Locally, we’ve seen record numbers of parents that are actually receiving letters and legal letters banning them from school sites because of their behaviour,” she said.

“Years ago, it was very, very rare, but now we’re seeing double figures in some schools.

“We have verbal abuse, obviously social media plays a big part … and we even have parents who are rocking up at school who are violent, causing altercations with members of staff on school premises – and that’s unacceptable. People don’t go to work to be assaulted.”

Although restoring the social contract could take years, Ms Exton thinks there are solutions which can be put in place but agrees that none of them will be a “quick fix”.

“Like the report says, it’s going to take a long time to undo,” she explained.

“I think what we’ve got to do is restore funding into the support services and we’ve got to look at boundaries, discipline, how we restore order in our classrooms.

“As well as that, we’ve got to treat teachers as the professionals … and let’s bring people back into the classroom that love their job.”