Belfast Telegraph

Sharp rise in assaults on teachers blamed on withdrawal of assistants

Budget cuts for NI schools resulted in job losses for support staff who helped prevent pupil attacks, committee hears.

The withdrawal of many classroom assistants has been blamed for a rise in pupil attacks on teachers in Northern Ireland. (PA Archive)
The withdrawal of many classroom assistants has been blamed for a rise in pupil attacks on teachers in Northern Ireland. (PA Archive)

A doubling in the number of violent assaults by children on school staff has been blamed on the withdrawal of classroom assistants, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has heard.

The number of reported physical assaults on teachers in the region rose from 210 in the 2014/15 academic year to 650 in 2015/16, it was reported last year.

Schools in Northern Ireland have faced budget cuts which resulted in many classroom assistants losing their jobs.

DUP MP Jim Shannon recalled seeing a young pupil at a mainstream school in Northern Ireland assault a teacher, overturn desks and wreck the classroom before being placed into a room on his own with a classroom assistant.

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Democratic Unionist MP Jim Shannon recalled witnessing a pupil assaulting a teacher at a school in Northern Ireland (PA Archive)

“The teacher was still at work the next day, but for the first time ever in my life I saw exactly what it meant,” he told the committee.

Justin McCamphill, Northern Ireland Official, National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), said that often when children with behavioural issues lose their individual teaching assistant, it can result in violent behaviour.

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Justin McCamphill, NASUWT National Official Northern Ireland says fewer classroom assistants has resulted in more attacks on school staff. (Westminster/PA)

Mr McCamphill told the Northern Ireland Affairs committee on Wednesday that more children with additional needs are being placed in mainstream schools.

He said that over the past year, the number of pupils on the special needs register increased by 2,800, and there has been 800 more pupils with statements for special needs.

“That’s happening at the same time while special school provision is being reviewed, and the number of those pupils with statements who are in special schools has fallen from 9.8% to 7.5%,” he told the committee.

“We therefore are finding that children may be inappropriately placed in mainstream not because it is necessarily the best place but because the employing authorities, due to financial considerations, are having to put the responsibility for that provision on schools.

“Our concern is that when that provision is put on schools, the support isn’t put there.

“We have had to deal with situations with young people with severe mental health problems, with behavioural problems who have had an individual classroom assistant, that individual classroom assistant is withdrawn.

“That can lead to quite violent behaviour.”

Mr McCamphill added: “When cuts are happening in schools, schools have constraints around pupil hours, teacher hours and class sizes, so the first people unfortunately to lose their jobs are support staff.

“In all the assaults that happen, my estimate is that probably two thirds of them are perpetrated by young people with problems that where if those problems had been identified and dealt with, wouldn’t have happened.”

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Geri Cameron, President, National Association of Head Teachers, NI, gives evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

Geri Cameron, President, National Association of Head Teachers, said she was assaulted “many, many times” as a teacher and said she sought support from her colleagues.

“There are a huge number of assaults on staff in special schools, staff frequently with bite marks, punches, kicks, assaults,” she told the committee.

“The NAHT undertook a survey of the assaults in special schools a number of years ago, the results were frightening, so frightening we didn’t publish because these young people have behaviours that are beyond their control and it is a totally different scenario, but it is still a fact of life for staff in those schools.”

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