Violence against school staff: the survey results

Result of Voice survey

By Martin Hodge, Professional Officer (Policy & Research)

According to news reports recently, there has been an increase in the number of violent assaults against school staff, with one in five staff reporting they experience violence at least once a week.

Some of those assaults are so serious that they make headline news.

Not everything gets reported in the media, so Voice surveyed its members, across the whole of the UK, to find out the levels of violence faced by teachers and other classroom staff on a daily basis.  The results are shocking, but sadly, do not come as a surprise.

Respondents

Respondents (257) came from across the school spectrum, with the vast majority (79%) being classroom practitioners.  This meant also that they were on the front line and bore the brunt of the violence reported to us.

 

The respondents noted that 71% had experienced pupil violence against them, and a further 27% had witnessed a pupil be violent.  Sadly, the vast majority reported that these were not just isolated incidents but ongoing, either by the same pupil or that violence against staff was endemic throughout the school.

Of those who reported being the victim of a violent pupil, nine in ten had been hit, punched, kicked or a combination of all three. 

Ten percent reported the child throwing something such as furniture or classroom objects, with other notable respondents reporting a child throwing another child and even faeces at them.  Biting, spitting and headbutts were also prevalent.

Thankfully, only a very few reported any sexual violence.

Settings

The majority of respondents to this survey work in primary-age environments and therefore the majority of reported incidents occurred in primary schools (76%). 

Perhaps more worrying is the level of violence reported in early years settings, making up 25% of all incidents reported.  It could be argued that this could be attributed to the children’s age or poor parenting, but it is important to consider if the way it is managed contributes to the level of violence further up the school system.

Timing

There were three distinct times of year when violent assaults seemed to peak, these broadly equate with the beginnings of each school term.

Although 25% of incidents happen at other times, a whopping 43% happen in September/October, a further 10% after the Christmas break and 22% following May half-term, despite there being fewer KS4 pupils present in many schools due to exams.

Of the 133 respondents who commented, mornings (36%) were the worst for violence perpetrated against staff, peaking between 10.00 and 11.00 in the morning.

In most schools, this is likely to coincide with an unstructured time such as morning break, or with transitions between lessons or to and from an assembly.  Surprisingly, we did not see the same spike in violence during lunchtime, but this could be due to the lower numbers of lunchtime supervisors responding to our survey.

Resolution

As you might expect, respondents reported a wide range of ways the situations were brought under control and resolved, and a similarly large range of actions taken against the perpetrators.  These often take into account the age and stage of the child as well as the seriousness of the incident and the impact it has on learning.  Mitigating factors such as special educational needs and disabilities or provocation may also be considered.

In around 16% of cases the situation resolved itself once the child calmed down.  Sometimes they were able to take themselves away to a safe space (4%) or were able to be distracted (3%).

Staff were able to resolve the situation themselves in 6% of incidents, however, in 22% of cases, additional staff were required to intervene, and 17% of cases resulted in some form of restraint such as Team-Teach

Parents were called in to help seven times, with the police being called for support in three cases.

Injuries

Over 130 respondents were hurt in the reported incidents:

  • 14 seriously;
  • 10 required medical treatment; and
  • 16 needed time off to recover, either due to stress or some sort of physical injury such as bruising and swelling, concussion, sprained wrist and broken ribs. 

Sadly, a couple of respondents reported that they should have taken time off but did not feel able to due to the culture of their school.

Fewer than 20 respondents reported having property damaged and this was mostly minor damage such as torn clothing or broken glasses.

Procedures

Where there has been a violent incident, especially one which has resulted in some form of injury, an entry should be made in the accident book and automatically reported to the senior leaders and may be reported further – to the trust or local authority.

In our survey:

  • 69% of cases were reported to a senior leader or line manager;
  • parents were informed in 70% of all cases; and
  • 64% of all cases were known to be formally logged by the school.   

However, it seems schools are not very good at keeping the victim informed and the further away from the individual the less was known – for example, 43% were unaware of whether their case had been reported to the trust or local authority:

Whilst 15% of cases resulted in exclusion (ranging from short, fixed-term of one or two days through to full weeks, or, in five cases, permanent exclusion, though it is likely that there were additional contributing factors) it is disappointing to note that in 42% of incidents, no formal action was known to be taken.

Indeed, respondents noted the following:

“It’s what they do – they’re only 3 or 4…”

“I was advised not to intervene with the child in future…”

“I was asked not to be near the child…”

“SLT are keen that incidents are not reported as we are short-staffed, we are not given time to record incidents…”

“We wear arm covers to protect arms and hands, but this time he bit my leg…”

Types of incident

The survey uncovered a plethora of violent incidents, some minor, others less so, which happen on a more regular basis and which routinely go unreported, often because of the type of school in which they occur.

Respondents working with very young children, or those with emotional and behavioural special needs, reported that violence is so common it is almost normal.

They are also the recipients of verbal abuse – some of which can be fairly extreme, such as being called “f**king c**t!” and threatening to “slitt (sic) my f*** throat”.

These verbal outbursts seem to be escalating in both frequency and severity, and this was confirmed by those respondents who had been witness to violence by a pupil against a colleague:

“Verbal threats of violence, swearing…”

“A Year 6 student in transition week got told off and put on the consequence board. He then started throwing tables and chairs around the room and the class had to be moved out. Eventually he had to be restrained by staff trained in MAPA.” [® Management of Actual or Potential Aggression]

“On many occasions I have witnessed pupils being aggressive and violent towards members of staff.”

“Young girl did not want to do what teacher asked, reasonable request, swore and lashed out but teacher was able to avoid the kick.”

As we identified earlier in this report, the majority of reported incidents occurred in early years and primary age settings (under 11s) and this is confirmed by those who witnessed events.  Again, this could be affected by the Voice members who responded.

Although we did not ask directly, some respondents also drew our attention to verbal abuse regularly received from parents and carers, with one respondent stating, “parents are as bad…”

 

Protecting members

In all cases of violence, the minimum that we would expect of employers, would be to undertake a risk assessment.  Respondents noted that this happened in 30 of the reported cases, but it is concerning that 49% of employers took no specific action to ensure staff safety and prevent a recurrence.

All employees have the right to a safe working environment, free from threatening, abusive or violent behaviour. 

This is enshrined in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.  Similarly, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 set out that employers should undertake risk assessments that:

“seek to identify and eliminate or reduce the risks to employees’ health, safety and welfare, including the risk from violent or abusive behaviour”.

Therefore, it is of grave concern that 56% of respondents were unaware of any policy or document in force in their workplace, potentially leaving them open to being victims again and again.

The impact of a violent assault on anybody should not be underestimated, and it is not just the physical impact – 18 respondents specifically reported needing mental health support sometimes well after the event.

Therefore, it is worrying that 49% of employers took no specific action to ensure staff safety and prevent a recurrence.  This does not seem to take account of the impact a violent incident may have had on the victim, which can be considerable, continuing long after the singular event.

Staff are often expected to continue working with their assailant despite the impact this can have on their wellbeing, leading in some instances to staff absence due to stress and fear over their personal safety. 

It is clear from these results that the situation in schools is depressing.  This is hardly unsurprising, and the reasons are myriad.

Some respondents noted funding being withdrawn – not from schools directly, but from services which previously would have supported pupils in schools – counselling services, mental health and emotional behaviour support services – leaving schools to do more, with their own shrinking finances.

Whatever the causes, Voice will continue to support members who fall victim to violent pupils, and ensure employers are held to account.

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