Terrifying breakdown of respect in our schools a crisis that should be top of the Education Minister's agenda
Our report today on the number of suspensions in schools across Northern Ireland is a shocking insight into what goes on in the classroom.
It is also an illuminating glimpse of the pressures many teachers are under. The fact that some of those staff are paying for self-defence training is a shocking indictment of the breakdown of respect in school.
Perhaps the most distressing statistic is that there were almost 1,000 suspensions of unruly primary school pupils over a three-year period, with around a quarter of those for physical attacks on teachers. That flies in the face of most people's perception of how children under 11 years of age behave.
Our first concern should be for those charged with educating our children. No one should have to go to work each day wondering if they will be subjected to verbal abuse or physical attack. It should be a matter of concern for everyone - education authorities and parents included - that such a culture exists in schools.
The latest survey of the composition of the teaching profession in Northern Ireland shows that nearly 77% of teachers are women. The immediate perception would be that pupils feel female teachers are easier prey for those intent on causing disruption or threatening harm. Concern has also been expressed that there are now greater demands on teachers, with more pupils requiring special help entering mainstream education.
However, the tightening public purse means that the resources needed to aid teachers are not always present, creating a system under stress.
However, parents of disruptive pupils also bear a significant responsibility for how their children behave while in the classroom. Are they being taught at home to respect authority and their fellow pupils? Attacks on fellow classmates are one of the main reasons for suspensions. Violence of any nature in the classroom - including attacks on teachers - is entirely unacceptable.
There is recurring anecdotal evidence from the teaching profession that some parents are less supportive than expected when problems occur in the classroom, often pointing the finger of blame at the teachers rather than at those causing the disruption.
Those causing disruption in schools are also interfering with the education of the vast majority of pupils who are willing to learn. Constant abuse of teachers or attacks on them creates an atmosphere that is not conducive to learning.
Education Minister Peter Weir should take heed of the problems revealed by our report and see how teachers can be given greater support.