THE number of exclusions given to children for assaulting adults at school is rocketing - leading to fears about the breakdown of good behaviour in the classroom.
The most recent figures from the Department for Education reveal that in the academic year 2016/7, in Portsmouth there were 211 fixed-term exclusions - suspensions - for physical assaults against adults in 2016/17 compared to 47 in 2008/9.
And in the Hampshire County Council education authority area there were 1,038 fixed period exclusions for physical assaults on adults in Hampshire schools compared to 131 in 2008/09.
It comes as a survey carried out by the NASUWT teaching union revealed that more than a quarter of teachers in the south east are physically abused by pupils every week.
The escalation has come as no surprise to Portsmouth teacher and National Education Union vice-president, Amanda Martin, who has herself been a victim of pupil violence.
Ms Martin said: ‘I have experienced threatening and aggressive behaviour from students when teaching. There was one child in my class who lashed out and kicked a teaching assistant. He then picked up a box of pens and threw them across the room and hit me in the side of the head. Violence against teachers can never be okay. You wouldn’t expect to be verbally and physically abused in any other profession.’
Ms Martin believes budgetary constraints and reduction in specialist provision are at the heart of the issue.
She said: ‘The majority of inclusion services to support children with challenging behaviour are disappearing from schools. Budgetary constraints mean there are fewer inclusion centres, external support services and less one-to-one support available to help families and children with complex needs.
‘Across the city it’s just becoming more difficult for schools to afford this provision. The problem is compounded by rising class sizes.’
While there are a number of special schools across the city, there is only one mainstream primary school which has an attached inclusion centre to support SEMH children (children with social, educational and mental health needs).
Ms Martin said: ‘I know of nine children in Portsmouth who have passed the test criteria for the additional support offered at the Inclusion Centre but there are currently no places available.’
Ms Martin added that improvements in the reporting of incidents could be a partial reason for the escalation in assaults – a view shared by Hampshire’s education authority.
A spokesperson said: ‘Clearly, we would never condone physical or verbal abuse being suffered by anyone. Over the last few years, we have worked with schools to ensure there is improved recording of incidents of verbal and physical aggression and this may, in part, account for some of the rise.’
Headteachers across the county have reacted with concern to the figures and have cited the increasingly inclusive nature of schools in dealing with children with more complex needs as more pupils attend mainstream rather than special schools.
Headteacher at The Cowplain School, Ian Gates, said: ‘It's very concerning that teachers report this. Of course schools sometimes reflect society and pick up some of this antisocial behaviour. In addition, schools are increasingly working with students with more complex needs.’
For Mr Gates, the situation is compounded by a diminishing budget.
‘With the budget cuts that schools and councils have faced, there are fewer resources to draw on to work with these children,’ he added.
It’s a sentiment shared by Horndean Technology College headteacher Julie Summerfield.
‘In many ways schools have become the fourth emergency service,’ she said. ‘We aren’t just here to educate children but are now expected to deal with their emotional and behavioural needs. We used to be able to get access to external behaviour support services but now we have to develop our own.’
Mrs Summerfield also cited fewer special schools as a potential reason for the rise in aggressive behaviour.
‘There are fewer special schools available and therefore schools are far more inclusive in dealing with children with complex needs,’ she added. ‘Children can only get one-to-one teaching assistant support if they have an EHCP (Educational Health Care Plan). It is very difficult for secondary schools to get a child into a special school as there are now so few places.’
Despite the rise in physical assaults against teaching staff in Hampshire, Mr Gates was keen to emphasise the good behaviour exhibited by the majority of the region’s children.
Mr Gates said: ‘ We have a very robust behaviour policy at The Cowplain School and our students are generally very well behaved and respectful. I do think it's worth remembering that this is the case with the vast majority of young people who attend school every day, work hard and are polite to their teachers and each other.’
Hampshire and Portsmouth councils have expressed concern over the issue and have put in place a number of measures to support schools in dealing with incidents.
A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council said: ‘Occasionally, teachers may face difficult situations and when an incidence of assault occurs, the headteacher will take action to both support the member of staff and deal with the culprit. Schools have access to support from county council professionals including the Occupational Health and Wellbeing Service, should additional help be needed.
‘School staff are also supported by the council’s education service in the management of a pupil’s challenging behaviour, often working directly with the pupil to help them develop positive social and emotional skills.’
Mike Stoneman, deputy director of Children, Families and Education at Portsmouth City Council added: ‘Schools and the local authority work in partnership to ensure that services are available to assist schools in working with all pupils, including those who may at times be violent. These include educational psychology, multi-agency behaviour support and restorative approaches. Schools work carefully to ensure that the health and safety of staff and pupils is paramount, by assessing and reviewing all young people experiencing difficulties. The council is supportive of this approach to ensure alternative arrangements and provisions are available as appropriate.’
UNION SURVEY REVEALS VIOLENCE EPIDEMIC
A survey carried out by the NASUWT teaching union, revealed that nearly nine in 10 (87 per cent) teachers have suffered physical or verbal abuse from pupils over the last 12 months with 84 per cent of teachers having been sworn at and 40 per cent verbally threatened.
The survey, which was carried out at the union’s annual conference, revealed a worrying escalation in violence against the region’s teachers. Twenty nine per cent of respondents had been hit, punched or kicked, 36 per cent shoved or barged, nine per cent spat at, and three per cent head-butted.
A number of teachers involved in the survey have spoken out about their experience working in the region’s schools.
One teacher commented: ‘It’s now accepted to be sworn at and face high levels of defiance. There are little sanctions for pupils who do this. Many members of staff have been assaulted by students including one who has scarring to her face after a student threw something at her. The student didn’t get a permanent exclusion despite this being a deliberate act.’
A colleague added: ‘More students are physically and verbally violent towards staff. Students often push past staff members in corridors and on stairs. Teaching is becoming more about crowd control and behaviour management than passing on knowledge and enriching young minds. It’s heart breaking that my dream job becomes more and more unpleasant.’