School support staff facing high levels of violence and abuse, says UNISON

More than half of classroom or teaching assistants (53%) across the UK have experienced physical violence at school in the past year, according to new figures published by UNISON today (Tuesday).

In addition, three-quarters (76%) of the teaching assistants who took part in a survey for the public service union said they had witnessed violence at their school in the previous 12 months.

UNISON’s report, Bad Form: Behaviour in Schools, shows that overall almost one-fifth (20%) of educational support staff (school business managers, technicians, librarians, administrative workers, caretakers, cleaners and catering staff) had experienced violence.

Teaching assistants bear the brunt of violent behaviour, according to the findings, and face a barrage of verbal threats and abuse. The overwhelming majority of incidents involving violence and abuse came from pupils, but a number were from parents.

UNISON believes worsening behaviour in schools is a direct result of cuts in staff and resources. Dealing with difficult behaviour in the classroom is causing major disruption, dominating the school day and undermining the learning of other pupils.

Schools are being placed under huge pressure to deliver higher grades and better OFSTED reports, whilst facing real terms funding cuts, says UNISON. The survey suggests the pressure on staff to deliver this while jobs are cut and workload increased is having a terrible impact on staff motivation.

Commenting on the findings, UNISON’s head of education Jon Richards said: “This paints a grim picture of the way cuts and a general lack of cash are having a huge effect on school support staff.

“Lessons couldn’t go ahead without teaching assistants and staff should not have to put up with violence and abuse in the classroom. These are not just occasional incidents. Abuse is becoming a regular and alarming occurrence with more than half of teaching assistants coming across violent behaviour in the classroom, the playground or at the school gates.

“A lack of resources means schools are unable to address behavioural issues. Dealing with these problems can dominate the day when time could be better spent supporting children’s learning.”

Of those teaching assistants who had faced violence, the overwhelming majority (98%) said this had come from pupils. One in 20 (5%) had additionally experienced violence from parents.

The report also found more than half of teaching assistants (53%) had received verbal threats. Of these, more than eight out of ten (85%) had faced threats from pupils, and a quarter (26%) from parents.

Six in ten (60%) teaching assistants who took part in the survey said they had experienced verbal abuse – almost four-fifths (79%) from pupils, and nearly a third (31%) from parents.

In each nation of the UK, schools should have a behaviour policy, that promotes good behaviour and prevents bullying, and which has to be given to staff, parents and pupils annually.

Worryingly, UNISON’s survey found nearly one in five (19%) said their school did not have an adequate behaviour management policy. A further 15% said they did not know about the policy – suggesting that if there is one in place, the school is not doing enough to publicise it.

Across the UK, school support staff said their school either did not provide adequate training to address behavioural problems (27%) or had never offered such training (24%).

Cuts in staff who deal with behaviour management were reported by a tenth of those surveyed (11%) over the past year, either through redundancies or posts being left vacant when someone leaves.

UNISON would like to see school governors and head teachers do more to manage the behaviour of unruly and disruptive pupils to minimise the impact in the classroom, and provide full support to staff encountering violence.

The union also wants more to be done to make clear to parents that unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated and for schools to ensure their behaviour policies are up to date and rigorously enforced.

Notes to editors:
– The UNISON survey was conducted during a four-week period in March and April 2016, with 14,514 responses.
– Teaching assistants are termed classroom assistants in Scotland.
– One respondent to the survey told how they had beenkicked, punched, slapped, head butted and insulted verbally by children”.
– One teaching assistant at a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties said: “I am very concerned about the high level of violence that staff are being asked to deal with on a daily basis. I go to work worrying that I may be badly injured – or that one of my colleagues will. The verbal abuse is constant.”
– UNISON represents more than 250,000 people in school support staff roles, with 150,000 of these working as teaching/classroom assistants.
– UNISON has published a guide Managing Difficult Behaviour in Schools written by Tom Bennett, the government’s advisor on behaviour in schools.
– Case studies are available from the press office.
– A summary of the survey findings is available here

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