Belfast Telegraph

Boy (7) in threat to knife pregnant teacher in belly

Teachers in terror... calls for action over 'epidemic' of pupil violence in our schools

Classrooms are increasingly witness to violence by pupils
Classrooms are increasingly witness to violence by pupils
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

A seven-year-old child told his teacher he would "stab her pregnant belly" in a shocking example of violence in Northern Ireland's classrooms.

The case emerged as a teachers' union revealed it is to work with the PSNI to address a rise in violent incidents in schools.

The Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) said the problem must be tackled before there is a "real tragedy".

Officials said staff are encountering "obscene" levels of violence on a daily basis.

A recent survey by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) revealed one in five school staff here is assaulted weekly.

Separate figures from the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) show four and five-year-olds are among a rising number of pupils receiving suspensions.

An ETI report published last November showed that in the 2016/17 academic year, 4,084 pupils were suspended.

Of these, 286 were of primary school age and 74 were in P1 or P2. Children as young as five are being risk-assessed as teachers fear their challenging behaviour could endanger other pupils, officials claim.

The growing problem of school violence is one of the issues set to dominate a UTU conference in Newcastle, Co Down, today.

Ahead of the event, Jacquie White, UTU's deputy general secretary, described how teachers had suffered horrendous abuse and threats in the classroom.

"One teacher was told by a seven-year-old that he would 'stab her pregnant belly' because he didn't want to do literacy," she said.

"In another incident a senior teacher of 30 years' experience was pinned to a wall studded with coat hooks by a P7 boy simply because he got in his way.

"In another instance a pregnant teacher with two physically and verbally abusive children in her P2 class was told there was no funding for extra help - she would just have to hold the boys' hands at all times to ensure they were behaving.

"She had 28 other children in the class, of whom 10 had individual education plans because of their special educational needs.

"So these are the realities behind the headlines when the public sees teachers asking for help and highlighting their growing fears about violence in the classroom."

The ICTU survey, published last month, set out the school violence epidemic in stark terms.

It said one in five school staff here is assaulted once a week. One in three education workers experiences physical abuse annually and 83% have been verbally abused in the classroom.

Ms White said the UTU will work with police to reduce teacher assaults.

She added: "We welcome the invite by the PSNI to work with them to halt the obscene levels of violence which teachers encounter daily. It must stop before there is a real tragedy.

"A shock report by ICTU recently highlighted the issue yet again and we support their tireless efforts in this area, but why is teaching the only profession where an almost acceptable level of violence seems to be tolerated?

"Everyone coming to the gates of any school should be aware that violence against staff will not be tolerated and, where it arises, the police will be involved - even if this means a sign like those in GPs' surgeries, pharmacies, and Post Offices, for instance.

"The incidences we encounter in our profession are horrifying and in any other setting would trigger an immediate response, yet teachers are expected to take it as part of their job, regardless of the impact it has on their mental and physical well-being."

Ms White said some parents were unaware of the extent of violence in the classroom now. She added: "I think people sometimes hear about the abuse of teachers but relate it to their own experiences a generation or two ago when a bit of cheek or bad attitude was as far as it usually went.

"What's happening in the classroom today is on an entirely different level and teachers feel they are being increasingly scapegoated and isolated.

"They are expected to embrace the well-intentioned 'inclusion' policy of educating all children together, including those with special educational and behavioural needs, yet they're not being given the funding or training to support this.

"Often they're even afraid to complain in case they are blamed. What kind of unhealthy management cultivates this kind of victim culture?"

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."

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