Educating our future generations is becoming more of a battle than a challenge for many teachers and classroom support staff. Since rules around discipline became redundant after the days of ruler slapping for menial wrongdoings during lessons, or the threat of a belt in many homes, by the 90s, you might say children enjoyed more freedom to express themselves. By the nature of growing up and finding their way in the world, as can be human nature, some push the boundaries. As adults they would be arrested. A survey carried out by The Association of Teachers and Lecturers suggests the soft approach of parents around discipline at school is part of the problem. Yet, school safety is the responsibility of the school, isn't it?
Stabbed in the head by a pencil, sprayed in the face by deodorant, hit by chairs, real threats to life - this is what educating future generations looks like.
Verbal abuse which once warranted a thrashing with the cane is almost taken as child's play, all in a day's work. And violent outbursts aren't met with much harsher consequences; a Rochdale primary school support worker said, “Occasionally pupils physically attack members of staff, but this rarely leads to a day's exclusion.” In 2017, the world has changed. Some pupils make UK schools look more like those from an American film about disadvantaged delinquents fighting for survival in the ghetto. Films no doubt on the playlist of many pupils. Violence has been on TV for decades and cannot be blamed entirely. Wherever today's youth find their inspiration, it's left to the adults in charge to find solutions. Quitting teaching often feels like the only way out. After hearing too many horror stories, to understand the full scale of the situation, the GMB workers union carried out an extensive survey which teachers and support staff across the UK responded to in an almost desperate cry for help. A GMB national officer, Karen Leonard, said: “The results of this survey make truly disturbing reading.”
While the topic around school safety is being well-covered by the media, heavily debated by all reputable governing bodies and discussions held in Parliament, it's the rate in which these violent incidents are occurring, and the increased severity in their executions which has taken everyone by surprise. Though, perhaps not the teachers and staff who are subject to the attacks. Nor to the pupils who suffer the same abuses or have their lessons disrupted.
Almost 50% of teaching staff say the level of physical abuse from student has worsened in the last 24 months.
Various statistics carried out over the last decade all show that, overall, classroom violence is increasing each year by around 6%. But after asking more than 1,200 teachers and other staff working in education, the GMB's latest research reveals that 75% of them have, at the minimum, been pushed and shoved. Half of the staff questioned believe things have taken a severe decline in the past two years - the annual 6% increase in violence against teachers will no doubt reach double figures unless steps are taken to better protect both teachers and pupils.
What constitutes as classroom abuse and how can teachers protect themselves?
In the past year, over 90% of educational workers said they have experienced verbal abuse: shouting, swearing, rude remarks, threatening and hurling insults - all common. More than 52% are kicked, and nearly a quarter spat at. Only a handful disagree the problems stem from a lack of discipline at home or the reaction to an unstable home-life, the majority saying they feel a breakdown in the family unit is to blame. Regardless of some parents' carefree attitudes, it can't be coincidence that in countries like Spain, where physical discipline is still handed out in many schools and homes, such statistics are unheard of.
The GMB took its nationwide survey to the 100th Congress, evidence to its attendees that, perhaps, despite one-off headlines about axe-wielding students and other truly horrifying incidents, other attacks like strangling, punching and scratching are happening more frequently. Back in February, The Guardian published an article about the controversial idea of teachers wearing body-cams. Piloted in two schools, there are mixed feelings about the scheme.
Technology: the teacher's 21st century survival kit?
During the interview with a government advisor on school discipline, a representative told The Guardian, “Cameras massively alter the relationship between the wearer and their surroundings. Pupils are seen as suspects rather than students.” It seems a common feeling amongst teachers too, many suggesting they would be playing the part of a policing system rather than an educator. However, the Times' survey showed that however uncomfortable with their overall feelings on the matter, one-third would wear a body-cam if it helped prevent unruly behaviour. Risking their abuse caught on camera will no doubt be a deterrent for pupils, and useful evidence to show parents how their child really behaves at school, but it's debatable whether they will or should become part of a teachers’ survival kit. But there are a few things teachers can use, which shouldn't be met with any opposition. In fact, they are already being used by thousands of people across many UK industries, and by many organisations, including hundreds of civil servants.
A smart idea: apps and other non-intrusive solutions for better school safety
Devices like remote monitoring systems are used by millions of lone workers across the globe. Typically, these are things like man down alarms, vital for people working alone in the field, such as an environmental researcher stuck on an island in the North Sea, or an oil rig welder alone 30-meters beneath it. Now, thanks to technological advances, similar software has been developed to work on smartphones, like SOS apps which can raise an alarm at the push of a button. Easy to install and working in minutes, the 30% of teachers injured at school would probably welcome such safety devices with open arms.