Children as young as six have been excluded from schools in Portsmouth for sexually inappropriate behaviour, new figures reveal.
Dozens of primary and secondary school youngsters have been given fixed-term or permanent exclusions for complaints which, according to national guidelines, range from sexual graffiti and bullying to sexual harassment and assault.
Details of the incidents are kept secret to protect the identity of the youths and victims involved but a local teaching union boss claims malicious sexual harassment of teachers is on the rise.
Sion Reynolds, president of NASUWT’s Portsmouth branch, which represents around 650 working teachers and 150 trainee teachers, said: ‘There is a lot of malicious name-calling, pushing and shoving and generally extreme bad manners.
‘This is something that is of huge concern to us and that we find totally unacceptable. Female teachers are usually on the receiving end of sexual harassment.
‘And where 10 years ago male teachers were called “gay”, the current favourite is “paedophile”. Regardless of the lack of truth in the accusation, labels like that stick and are extremely dangerous.’
A second Freedom of Information request shows several young boys and girls have been excluded from school for possession of a weapon on school grounds.
In the four years up to 2009/10, 31 schoolchildren from the age of seven were caught in possession of dangerous objects such as knives and BB guns.
At Somers Park Primary, there were four incidents in 2007/8 of boys aged between seven and 11 being excluded for bringing weapons into school. Since then there have been no exclusions on the grounds of possessing weapons.
Headteacher Jan Fleming attributes the turnaround to hard work spreading a ‘positive ethos’ throughout the school where children are encouraged to voice their concerns and are equipped with simple techniques to control their anxieties.
She said: ‘We’ve come a long way. Back then exclusions were very high. This year they’ve come down to almost nothing.
‘You have to understand that children don’t do something that is destructive or violent out of the blue. There is always a good reason why they are acting that way.
‘A child with anger issues can for example benefit from counting up to 10 when they feel their temper rising. It may sound simple, but by introducing these methods step by step, you can help the child to understand what they are going through.’
One of the incidents at Mrs Fleming’s school involved a pupil who felt threatened by a child from another school, and was worried about meeting them in the street.
She explained: ‘The child brought an ordinary dinner knife in from home, thinking this would be protection, and hid it in the cistern of a school toilet.
‘Another child informed staff of the “weapon” within a few minutes of the start of the school day.
‘It was removed and stored in the school safe.
‘The child’s family were informed and the child received a fixed-term exclusion from school.’
She added: ‘About three weeks later there was a second incident involving the same child, who caused some disruption in school while holding a bat used in PE.
‘There was no violence or threat of violence – the issue was the child’s disobedience when told to stop being disruptive. The result was another fixed-term exclusion.’
Jon Reeves, assistant head of Mayfield School in North End, said he took heart from the rarity of incidents involving weapons at his school in spite of its 1,200-strong pupil size.
He said: ‘We had a student who brought a penknife into school to impress friends and another who took a food preparation knife from a technology room last year.
‘Both of these individuals were excluded and we worked closely with the police to reintegrate them into our community.’
Reflecting on the situation in inner-city London schools which employ knife detector arches because the risk of students carrying weapons is so high, he added: ‘We have a hand-held metal detector which we have used on only three occasions in the past four years when rumours of students bringing inappropriate objects into school were received.’
Mr Reynolds says the city does not have a major problem with weapons in schools – but with a lack of respect for teachers, which he fears will lead to worse things.
‘While it is upsetting to see children at primary school bringing weapons into school, incidents are rare and usually done as a joke as opposed to have any intent to hurting anyone,’ he said.
‘We’ve certainly had pranks involving BB guns with teachers being threatened in the past, but those involved were excluded permanently.
‘Sometimes all it needs is for the children to have an awareness of the consequences of their actions, and they don’t repeat their mistakes.
‘But the big problem for our teachers, and one that is getting worse, is a lack of respect for teachers in the classroom.
‘Weapons are not involved, but bad behaviour is a slippery slope, and it is genuinely worrying to think where it will all end.’