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Northern Ireland teachers assaulted and abused in classrooms, union boss tells conference

Teachers are being pushed to the limit, assaulted in class and face trial by social media from parents and pupils, a leading union representative will warn today.
Teachers are being pushed to the limit, assaulted in class and face trial by social media from parents and pupils, a leading union representative will warn today.
Victoria Leonard

By Victoria Leonard

Teachers are being pushed to the limit, assaulted in class and face trial by social media from parents and pupils, a leading union representative will warn today.

NASUWT Northern Ireland president David Baxter is to tell the union's annual conference near Belfast that police and government officials must do more and work together to protect those working in education.

He will also highlight the "perilous state" of the education service here due to lack of funding, and urge MLAs to restore the Assembly.

At the event, NASUWT members will debate a range of motions on pay, sexual harassment, making upskirting and downblousing an offence in criminal law, violence against teachers, school funding, and a call for changes to the Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1988.

Teaching jobs are exempt from the legislation - meaning that schools can lawfully discriminate on the grounds of religious belief in the appointment of teachers.

Although the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) has said in the past it would like to see that exemption being removed, moves to do so at Stormont never succeeded.

Mr Baxter will say that he has had his "eyes opened at the level of ill-health of teachers and also, the number of physical assaults on staff".

Earlier this year, former Enniskillen Royal Grammar School pupil Timothy Boomer (18) was found guilty of outraging public decency after he filmed up the skirts of two of his teachers in 2015 and 2016.

"I keep my most impassioned call for the police and government to work together to protect us in the teaching profession," Mr Baxter will say.

"We professionals, we caring professionals, constantly face trial and jury by social media and the wrath of angry pupils and parents.

"We have some degree of protection in our classrooms but against a global internet industry, we are powerless."

Mr Baxter will say he is "very concerned about the mental and emotional state of teachers".

He will add: "We are pushed to the limit, due to a very caring and compassionate workforce which is used and abused by management."

Mr Baxter will also address school funding, saying that "all aspects of education are in a perilous state".

He is also due to warn that children are suffering as a result of the Stormont stalemate.

"I call on politicians to use every ounce of energy they have to restore governance in Northern Ireland.

"These fine young people, tomorrow's leaders, are the ones who are ultimately suffering - they only have one crack at growing up," he is to say.

The Department of Education said: "The safety of teaching and support staff in schools is the responsibility of individual schools and employing authorities.

"The department abhors any violence towards or abuse of staff in schools.

"It will fully support schools and employing authorities in addressing this issue."

The Education Authority spokesperson: "The safety and well-being of all our staff is a top priority.

"We regularly meet with trade union colleagues through our joint health and safety committee to discuss matters of this nature and actions required to ensure we have safe and respectful working environments for our staff."

The CCMS added that teachers' safety at work is not just a matter of concern for teachers, employers and trade unions, but also for wider society.

"We need to ask serious questions as to why it is the case and whether it is ever acceptable that increasingly teachers, or indeed other public servants, should have to consider their safety at risk," it said.

"CCMS is unambiguous in this regard, teachers deserve to be free from this concern and we would welcome an opportunity to work with all of our partners developing strategies to achieve that goal."

The PSNI said: "Abuse of any kind whether physical, verbal or online is unacceptable, and police officers are committed to investigating offences, supporting victims and bringing perpetrators to justice.

"We are mindful of the impact that abuse can have on family and work life.

"We would therefore encourage any member of teaching and teaching support staff who has been subjected to abuse to report it to police.

"We would also welcome the opportunity to work with the education sector to try and prevent incidences of abuse occurring."

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