Belfast Telegraph

School discipline shock as levels of suspension and expulsion revealed

BY EAMON SWEENEY

More than 10,000 pupils were suspended from schools across Northern Ireland in just three years.

A further 73 were expelled because of their indiscipline, statistics from the Education Authority (EA) reveal.

The problem is so bad that one teaching union had to produce advice for its members on how to deal with violence in the classroom.

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

The numbers increased by 13% in that period - from 3,313 in 2013/14 to 3,759 in 2015/16.

And the true numbers may be even higher because schools who suspended fewer than five pupils in a year are not included in case it identifies individual cases.

Many cases also go unreported, teaching unions have warned.

The figures came to light after a Freedom of Information request by the Belfast Telegraph to the EA.

It covers more than 900 schools and lists the number of suspensions and the reasons why pupils were sent home or permanently excluded.

The 73 pupils expelled in that three-year period included 11 dismissed for physical attacks on fellow students, 10 for attacking staff members and eight for substance abuse.

Seventeen were expelled for persistently breaking minor school rules, nine others were expelled for verbal abuse and six for disruptive behaviour.

The highest single number of suspensions at any school was St Joseph's Boys School in the Creggan in Londonderry, with 368.

Across Northern Ireland, more than 3,500 suspensions were for a physical attack on a fellow student, while more than 600 related to physical attacks on school staff.

Teaching unions expressed alarm at the figures. Mark McTaggart, assistant Northern secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO), said his organisation was growing more and more concerned about the rise in assaults.

"The number of reported physical assaults on teachers has risen from approximately 210 assaults in 2014/15 to 650 in 2015/16," he said.

"However, INTO is aware that many teachers do not report assaults, so the real number is much higher.

"These reported figures do not include the number of staff members who have been subjected to both frequent verbal abuse and bullying by pupils."

More than 3,700 suspensions were handed out to pupils found guilty of verbally abusing school staff.

Mr McTaggart added: "INTO is particularly alarmed at the rise in the number of teachers who, following assaults, are forced to be absent from work, and as a result the subsequent effect it has on both the physical and mental well-being of teachers and school leaders and their families in dealing with the aftermath of such incidents.

"INTO is further concerned by the detrimental effect on the education of young people due to teacher absence as a result of assaults.

"In response to this recognised rise, and in the absence of guidance in regard to assaults in schools, INTO has felt it necessary to produce advice for members across the island of Ireland on dealing with assaults and violence at school.

"This advice includes how best to prevent assaults and violence in school and on dealing with the aftermath of assaults on staff."

A total of 29 pupils were disciplined for stealing, while 1,900 suspensions related to the persistent disobedience of minor school rules.

More than 1,000 suspensions were linked to disruptive behaviour.

Just under 200 were temporarily excluded from school for bullying another pupil, while almost 300 suspensions were handed down for causing significant damage to property.

Some 145 suspensions were for drink abuse, while 114 related to substance abuse.

Belfast Telegraph

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