Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Classroom violence statistics are the tip of the iceberg

Our teaches are coming under an increasing amount of pressure

All those working with children and young people would prefer to prevent any threat or assault. However, regrettably, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) recognises that there are going to be circumstances in which education staff are verbally or physically threatened and/or assaulted.

We know that managers and staff in these circumstances will have to proceed with the greatest care.

They will often be under considerable pressure to make decisions and judgments in very difficult circumstances.

The figures revealed in the Assembly question are very worrying, and ATL is concerned that this may not be the full picture.

The data is incomplete and there may be under-reporting of incidents as schools try and deal with issues informally to avoid highlighting incidents for fear of bad publicity.

There is no doubt that more serious instances of violent and disruptive behaviour are on the rise, and the information shared in the Assembly confirms this.

Our message is clear: assaults or threats are unacceptable and we will continue to support members fully in all cases, taking whatever steps we consider necessary when our members' safety and well-being are threatened.

ATL's approach on violence, threatening behaviour and abuse from students, visitors – including parents – and intruders is first and foremost to press for protection against such behaviour.

In all cases appropriate support, including legal advice, must be provided by employers, and legal sanctions against perpetrators should be pursued.

Along with other teacher trade unions, we continue to work with the Department of Education on developing policies and strategies to ensure that school staff are protected from attacks.

At the heart of this work is the affirmation by schools, boards of governors, and the department that violence and abusive behaviour against teachers is totally unacceptable.

As well as the immediate aftermath of dealing with an incident, school staff need support to feel safe in the workplace in the weeks and months after an incident.

Schools need strong and consistently applied behaviour policies so that pupils, and also their parents, know what behaviour is expected of them, and more importantly, what sanctions will be applied if they break them.

But teachers should never be expected to suffer any form of abuse while performing their duties – whether that is physical, verbal, or psychological.

Alastair Donaghy is the Northern Ireland regional official with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers

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