Government must do more to help school support staff deal with difficult behaviour and violent attacks, says UNISON

With challenging behaviour from pupils on the increase, UNISON is today (Friday) urging the government to better protect school caretakers, cleaners, dinner ladies, classroom assistants and other support staff from violent attacks. 

At its annual school support staff conference in Cardiff this week, UNISON will publish Managing Difficult Behaviour in Schools – a new guide written by behaviour consultant Tom Bennett, designed to give staff more confidence and practical help when dealing with difficult situations. 

UNISON has already raised concerns over a lack of training and guidance, following a recent survey of more than 15,000 school support staff that revealed six in ten (60 per cent) were concerned about how to deal with challenging pupil behaviour. 

Support staff report being subjected to verbal abuse and physical aggression on a regular basis, some of which is of a racist or sexist nature. 

School support staff as well as teachers are on the front line when it comes to dealing with challenging behaviour from pupils and students, says UNISON. The new report provides basic tips to help them understand school behaviour policies, as well as how to handle and report violent incidents. It also sets out methods for defusing difficult situations and building relationships with students.   

UNISON Head of Education Jon Richards said: “Managing behaviour is one of the main areas that school support staff raise as a major cause for concern. They often find themselves overlooked in behaviour management strategies and training programmes. All too often headteachers and school governors assume that it is only teachers who need support in this area. 

“We are calling on the new government to recognise that all staff in schools need adequate training and support to manage behaviour and communicate effectively with pupils and parents. We’ll also be raising our concerns with the Scottish and Welsh governments. 

One school support worker with almost ten years experience told UNISON that they would leave the profession if they had another job to go to: ”I have been physically assaulted twice to the point where I ended up in hospital and was forced to take time off work, and other colleagues have ended up in similar situations. Not only is this damaging to staff morale, but it is incredibly disruptive to pupils and constantly affects their ability to learn.”

Other school support staff told UNISON: 

•  “At times I feel more like a security guard than a support assistant. Although I have never been hurt myself I know of colleagues who have and the school pushes these incidents under the carpet rather than reprimand the pupils involved. The softly softly approach does not work.”

•  “The main issue is dealing with challenging pupils and their behaviour – the matter seems to be getting worse. The children I work with are of primary school age and there have been moments when, as an adult, I have been frightened by the level of violence directed at me.”

•  “Violent pupils have no where to go. The head is not willing to exclude them because it costs money, so staff are being put at risk. At least 15 behavioural reports for violence towards staff have been filed in one year for a five year old child. We need support.” 

Notes to editors:

The full report, Managing Difficult Behaviour in Schools, is available from the UNISON press office on 0207 121 5555.

UNISON represents more than 250,000 school support staff in the UK, including caretakers and janitors, cleaners, school cooks, cateringassistants, lunchtime supervisors, admin and finance staff, data managers, examinations staff, school business managers, teaching assistants, classroom assistants, cover supervisors, nursery nurses, library assistants, librarians, network managers, ICT technicians, food technicians, science technicians, design and technology technicians, attendance officers, family support advisers, learning mentors, school crossing patrol officers.