Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Teachers are under an intolerable strain

Editor's Viewpoint

Complaints by teachers or their unions about the pressures on staff in schools are often taken with a pinch of salt by the public at large who feel that the situation has been exaggerated.

However, the statistics revealed by this newspaper today paint a disturbing, even shocking, picture of life in the classroom, with physical and verbal attacks on teachers and other staff reaching serious levels and continuing to rise sharply.

In 2014/15 there were 210 reported assaults of staff in our schools. In the next year that snowballed to 650. And in the three years to 2016 almost 10,400 pupils were suspended for abusing teachers.

While it is easy to show the extent of the problem, finding a solution to it is obviously not a simple matter.

A union leader quoted in this report says part of the problem is the number of pupils with complex needs who are being taught in mainstream classes. Unable to cope at the same level as their peers in the classroom some may become frustrated and disruptive or even abusive.

As the union leader says, the tightening of budgets erodes the ability of schools to cater appropriately for those students requiring special assistance. If her analysis is correct then this is a situation that is not likely to change in the near future as the recent budget passed for Northern Ireland showed that the education purse strings remain pulled tightly closed.

But it would be wrong to lay the blame on any one category of pupil. Offenders are to be found in all sectors of the education system and among all ages and show a disturbing contempt of authority among many pupils.

The eternal adage that respect and discipline are learned first in the home remains as true today as it ever was. Teachers can tell of being harassed by parents who refuse to believe their children could do wrong. They also speak of a lack of support from parents when they complain of misbehaviour.

There can be no acceptance of pupils physically or verbally abusing teachers or other school staff and some of the attacks outlined in our report today would be regarded as criminal offences if happening on the street. In one instance a pregnant teacher was assaulted and in another the teacher's injuries were mistaken for domestic violence. No one should be subjected to assaults of any kind in their workplace. That they happen in our classrooms is even more shocking.

Belfast Telegraph

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