Belfast Telegraph

646 Northern Ireland pupils suspended for assaulting teachers

By Claire Williamson

More than 600 pupils were suspended in Northern Ireland last year for physical assaults on teaching staff, it has emerged.

The figure of 646 for the year 2015/16 is treble that of the previous year where there were 213 suspensions.

Justin McCamphill of the teaching union NASUWT said the figures did not surprise him and that due to budget cuts there are fewer resources for specialist support.

He told the BBC Stephen Nolan Show: "This is no surprise to us.

"Class sizes are getting bigger and schools are losing any specialist support they did have for vulnerable young people.

"Discipline is breaking down and class sizes are part of it."

There were 536 boys suspended and 110 girls in one year.

Mr McCamphill added: "I know a school last week where the police had to be called to deal with a pupil who seriously assaulted a teacher, and when the police arrived he assaulted police.

"That is happening in our schools. We surveyed all our teachers in 2015/2016 and 13% reported to us that they have been physically assaulted."

One caller to the programme said he witnessed a primary seven pupil threaten the school principal.

Brian in Lambeg said: "I was doing business with a primary school in belfast. And I was talking to the principal and a P7 was brought to him for being disruptive. When the principal told him to stand in the hall and wait til he was finished.

"He said 'I don't f***** think so. Why don't you and me go out int he playground and I'll give you a digging'."

"He said 'that's nothing new - if it's not me it's one of the other teachers'."

Mr McCamphill says he attributes the rise in teachers' sick days to the attacks - which has seen the cost of substitute cover rise.

He said: "I'd attribute that increase to assault on teachers. When a teacher is assaulted they have to take time off to see a doctor and it can cause mental stress.

"It has a knock-on effect."

He said that the total number of attacks could be more than 1,000 as the figures didn't include attacks in special schools.

"We are dealing with several members who had to take time of work but I'm sure there are some that have left their jobs because of it.

"We do take a zero tolerance on it. Last year, there were two other schools where we balloted for a refusal to teach ballot. And in both those schools members refused to teach the pupils who were involved in assaulting teachers.

"We are saying to members and to all staff, whether teachers or not, they have to report it to the police.

"It does appear to be a reluctance to report assaults.

"Report it to police and so so we can log that it's happening."

Another caller to the Nolan show said recalled an incident as he said that when young people strike out it's "because there is an underlying trauma".

Rob from north Belfast told of an example when he had been driving through Belfast when a young person threw a stone at his vehicle. He challenged him and he ran to his house.

He said his anger turned to sympathy when he reached the door as he could smell alcohol and drugs when the door was opened.

"When I told them (his dad) 'there's been a wee accident there'. He said 'I'm going to knock him out'."

He said that while this is not the case for all young people involved in the attacks - but it's the environment for some.

He added: "We need to get it into perspective."

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