One in four teaching staff in UK schools experience physical violence from students at least once a week, according to a survey by a leading teaching union. For some, school violence and poor behaviour is a reason they may consider leaving the profession. These may appear to be small figures in comparison to the state of some schools in America. According to a 2018 US Government report on school crimes and safety, 10 percent of teachers in public schools received threats of violence from a student. The increasing scale of the problem in the UK means schools need to do more to protect staff. Classroom violence often spills into the community. An example is the number of knife-related crimes involving children coming from school, especially around London.
What form does school violence take?
According to the 2016/17 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), teaching and education professionals report a higher rate of violence at work than most occupations. Violence or the threat of violence and intimidation takes many forms. The most commonly reported include:
- Teachers having things thrown at them, including desks and chairs sometimes
- Verbal insults and abuse
- Threats of physical violence outside school premises
- Being barged and shoved in corridors
- Having coffee or drinks spilled on them
- Intimidation of teachers, commonly female staff.
Teachers union reports also indicate the scale of the problem may be larger than reported. Some teachers suffer in silence, leading to normalisation of some behaviours by the students. While some forms of abuse are not physical, the psychological impact on teaching and support staff are well-documented. Many teaching professionals blame a lack of funding on some of the problems in schools. The argument is that when funding is reduced, pupils who may need special care often face neglect. Class sizes also increase, and a shortage of staffing increases the teacher-to-student ratios.
The impact of classroom violence in schools
Schools should be a safe learning and working environment for students and teaching support staff alike. The figures putting teaching as one of the riskiest occupations when it comes to workplace violence paints a different picture. The wider implications of the problem, if no action is taken, is that they risk losing teaching staff. Loss of teaching staff is likely to make the problem worse as teachers believe a reduction in staffing levels is a contributing factor.
The quality of education delivery suffers. Schools experience poor attainment levels in schools and more social problems down the line. Teachers suffer from stress and anxiety and a generally poorer quality of life if they have to dread facing their classes every day. Threats of violence outside school also mean that even outside of school, teachers may not feel as safe as they would want and deserve.
What can schools do to combat classroom violence?
Teacher health, safety and welfare is the responsibility of local authorities, governing bodies, academy trusts and all other employers of teachers. Wherever possible, removing the risk is the best course of action. Schools have the power to sanction disruptive and abusive students after carrying out appropriate investigations and risk assessments. Schools can also reduce the risk by implementing changes in working practices and providing teachers with adequate support to deal with the risks.
What does this look like in practice?
Managing student behaviour
The Department for Education (DfE) offers a guidance booklet on managing pupil behaviour. Teachers should be aware of the guidance and receive the appropriate training to follow and put in place the guidance while receiving the support of the school authorities to do so.
Individual student risk assessment
These become necessary when a pupil has a history of violent or intimidating behaviour. The risk assessment ensures appropriate measures are put in place to protect the staff and other students.
School codes of conduct and accompanying sanctions work for the majority of minor behaviour problems. For pupils posing a significant risk, it may need a coordinated effort which includes the parents and other professionals.
Is there a role for technology in managing violence in classrooms?
Can technology act as a deterrent for violence in the classroom? There are different camps when it comes to using any form of technology to manage behaviour in schools. Automated alarm systems improve reaction times and remove a lot of guesswork if set up properly, allowing notifications of an emergency to be passed quickly from staff members on the ground to their colleagues with minimal input. No fire alarm-style levers need to be thrown and no sirens need to start ringing, enabling staff to calmly respond without having to go through any complex procedures.
For more serious situations where it may not be possible to openly raise the alarm, teachers can have a mobile personal emergency response device installed under their desk or carried in a pocket to act as a ‘panic button’ of sorts. This can be especially useful if the teacher is involved in a face to face confrontation with someone, as it allows them to continue to attempt to resolve the situation through dialogue whilst simultaneously bringing colleagues to their aid.
Are you a teacher or part of the governing body for a school and are concerned about school safety? Call us on 01494 833123 to speak to one of our school safety experts. You can also download one of our guides to learn more about making your classrooms safer.