The murder of Leeds schoolteacher Ann Maguire in her classroom last month sent shockwaves throughout the UK. While it was an exceptional event, what it brought into focus was the level of violence directed at teachers.
Our report today which reveals that there have been 400 attacks by pupils in Northern Ireland in the last five years – the true figure is probably worryingly higher given that one education board did not supply figures and other cases went unreported – highlights a growing problem.
Of most concern must be the fact that primary school pupils are responsible for a high proportion of the assaults. And it seems that often teachers are not supported by parents when they report such incidents. It is almost unbelievable that any parent – as happened in one case – would actually come to the school and assault a school principal, knocking him unconscious.
The range of disciplinary measures open to teachers – since the ending of corporal punishment which many people believed was a deterrent – are quite limited and obviously do not seem to work very effectively.
It is not enough for the Education Minister John O'Dowd to issue a statement merely stating that assaults are unacceptable and that he will work with other stakeholders including employers and teachers' unions to combat these crimes.
There must be a clearly stated determination from the minister right down to boards of governors that those pupils responsible for assaulting teachers will be dealt with through the legal system in appropriate cases and that teachers will be given unequivocal support when pursuing justice against anyone who attacks them.
If any of us were assaulted on the street we would expect the police to investigate and bring the perpetrators to court.
Teachers should demand the same reaction.
Of course, parents have a major role to play. They should encourage their children to respect their teachers and should impose their own sanctions if their children step across the line.
School is where we all learn the information that will stand us in good stead as adults. That includes how to behave in a responsible manner.