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Schools violence: Police called out ten times every day

By Rebecca Black

Published 29/12/2015

Attacks on teachers have been described as being ‘disturbingly high’. Image posed by model
Attacks on teachers have been described as being ‘disturbingly high’. Image posed by model

Police are called to schools 10 times every day amid growing concerns at the scale of physical violence in the classroom.

Attempted murder and assault with injury were among the offences investigated at school locations last year.

Serious violence is so common that many schools have now installed panic buttons, according to a teachers' union.

In one shocking incident, a classroom had to be evacuated after a child of five assaulted three staff - including the school principal.

The revelation emerged as PSNI figures shed new light on the problem of unruly pupils.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act also reveal that 13 illegal weapons were seized by police from schools last year.

In total, 317 physical attacks were recorded by the PSNI in schools during 2014.

Officers were called out to schools 2,068 times.

That is almost six times a day on average - or 10 a day when weekends and school holidays are excluded.

The PSNI classified these attacks as violence against the person, with some incidents so serious they were described as attempted murder or assault with injury.

There have also been incidents of police officers being attacked in schools with assault without injury on a constable being recorded.

Peter Weir, who chairs the Stormont Education committee, described the numbers as "disturbingly high".

Earlier this year, there were reports that a boy had struck a staff member at De La Salle school in north Belfast.

And in February a 13-year-old boy died following an incident at St Michael's College in Enniskillen.

He was hurt during a lunchtime football match and another pupil was questioned by police over the incident. The pupil in question was never charged.

One of the most high profile attacks in a local school was in 2008 when a pupil allegedly struck a teacher at Movilla High School in Newtownards.

Avril Hall-Callaghan, who is general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union, blamed class sizes and lack of resources for the violence.

"The idea of a teacher with a panic button below the desk is no longer the thing of urban myth but sadly a reality for some teachers in Northern Ireland today," she said.

"The reasons for violence in the classroom are manifold - not least though are class size, a growing number of children with special needs, lack of resources and support for those children and inadequate training for teachers in special educational needs and behavioural management."

The union has also warned that the compensation payouts to teachers injured at work are set to spiral unless a "zero tolerance" policy is adopted towards abusive behaviour.

The number of physical attacks in schools had dropped from 371 in 2010 to 312 in 2011 and down even further to 270 in 2012.

But they have since risen to 295 in 2013 and 317 in 2014.

In total 10 illegal weapons were seized from schools in 2010. This rose to 15 in 2011, dropped to 11 in 2012 and to nine in 2013.

But it rose again in 2014 to 13.

In terms of the number of police call-outs to schools the overall figure has steadily fallen over the past five years, from 3,555 in 2010 to 2,068 in 2014.

However, Mr Weir said the figures provide a worrying snapshot.

"It highlights the difficulties experienced nowadays by teachers and fellow pupils," he said.

"While it appears on these figures that there has been a decline in the level of reported violence with incidents down from 371 to 317, and police call outs from 3,500 to around 2,000, these figures still seem disturbingly high, and (you question)whether the sharp reduction in police callouts represents a completely genuine fall-off in incidents, or whether there is a reluctance to calling out the police.

"Have we got too used to low-level violence? It is particularly concerning to learn that 58 illegal weapons have been seized from schoolchildren over a five-year period.

"It is important that the department outline what action they are taking to combat this violence and what strategy they are pursuing to protect pupils and staff.

"This is also a key challenge for parents in ensuring that their own children behave responsibly, respectfully and peacefully."

The Department of Education were not available for comment last night.

Belfast Telegraph

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