Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland teacher 'looked like domestic abuse victim' due to attacks in class

By Rebecca Black

A teacher who had been repeatedly assaulted by her pupils was left looking like a victim of domestic abuse, a trade union has said.

The shocking revelation was made ahead of the Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) annual conference today, and a few months after the Belfast Telegraph reported that 10 pupils were expelled from schools in Northern Ireland over the previous three years for attacking staff.

The number of reported physical assaults on teachers has risen from 210 in the 2014/15 academic year to 650 in 2015/16.

There have also been thousands of incidents of verbal abuse of teachers, with figures obtained from the Department of Education following a Freedom of Information Act request revealing that more than 3,700 suspensions were handed out to pupils found guilty of abusing school staff.

Overall, in the three academic years up to 2016, at least 10,380 pupils here were suspended.

Avril Hall-Callaghan, UTU general secretary, said classroom violence was a regular reality for many of the union's members.

"Violence against teachers is becoming so ingrained in the fabric of school life now that I would be surprised if there is a single class in Northern Ireland where some form of higher or lower grade violence hasn't been displayed against a teacher," she said.

"When one of our members attended her GP about an unrelated matter, the doctor saw her injuries - cuts, finger grab bruises and scrapes - and thought she was a victim of domestic abuse. That's the level of injury we're talking about.

"Teachers have had to get tetanus injections after being bitten by pupils who drew blood; they've brushed out literally handfuls of hair having been grabbed by an out-of-control student; and we've even had cases of pregnant teachers being attacked.

"We talk about 'classroom violence' and it's just a soundbite to most people - but this is the reality."

Ms Hall-Callaghan was speaking ahead of a debate on violence at the UTU annual conference in Newcastle, Co Down.

She said she believed such attacks were increasing because a growing number of pupils with increasingly complex learning and behavioural challenges were being placed in the mainstream schools system without adequate support.

"These young people are frustrated, often through no fault of their own," she added.

"That plays out in violent outbursts and teachers - ill-equipped and not trained for such special situations - are at the receiving end.

"The children are usually as much victims in these scenarios as our members.

"The blame lies with the funding authorities who refuse to provide appropriate training and support for these children.

"Yet again, it's the teachers who get the blame and bear the brunt while the faceless bureaucrats hide behind letterheads and the politicians clock up yet another month of inactivity.

"Teachers have had to retire because of this type of violence, their mental and/or physical health irreparably damaged. Are we going to wait until even worse happens?"

Belfast Telegraph

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