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UNISON Survey Finds School Support Staff Having To Deal With Rising Violence And Abuse

More than half of TAs responding to survey report experiencing physical violence from pupils and parents over the past year

  • UNISON Survey Finds School Support Staff Having To Deal With Rising Violence And Abuse

According to research carried out by UNISON, 53% of the UK’s teaching assistants have personally experienced some form of physical violence in their schools over the past year.

The figures come from a new survey published by the public sector union, ‘Bad Form: Behaviour in Schools’, which also found that a further 76% of TAs have witnessed violent incidents take place in their schools over the same period, and that 20% of educational support staff (including librarians, technicians, administrative support and catering staff) had also experienced violence.

The survey was conducted over four weeks in March and April this year and received 14,514 responses from teaching and support staff in schools across the UK. Among its other findings:

• 19% of respondents stated that they worked in a school without an adequate behaviour policy, with 15% unsure as to whether their school operated such a policy or not

• 27% stated that their schools failed to provide adequate training for managing pupil behaviour

• 53% of TA respondents had experienced verbal threats against them at school, while 73% had witnessed threats directed at others

• Among those respondents who had experienced violence, 98% said that the perpetrators had been pupils; 5% stated that they had faced violence from parents

• Of those reporting threats, 85% said they had seen threats issued by pupils; 26% had experienced threats originating from parents

UNISON’s own takeaway from the figures are that cutbacks in school leadership and support staff, combined with increases in workload have left schools under-resourced and less able to deal with issues relating to pupil behaviour.

According to Jon Richards, UNISON’s head of education, the survey “Paints a grim picture of the way cuts and a general lack of cash are having a huge effect on school support staff. Lessons couldn’t go ahead without teaching assistants and staff should not have to put up with violence and abuse in the classroom.

“These are not just occasional incidents. Abuse is becoming a regular and alarming occurrence with more than half of teaching assistants coming across violent behaviour in the classroom, the playground or at the school gates.”

Respondents’ comments

– “Issues with behaviour have seriously increased – teaching assistants are covering classes, but are not given enough support. Behaviour support workers are overloaded with cases that means ‘minor’ special educational needs such as dyslexia are not being addressed.

“Concerns about child protection and disruptive/violent behaviour are taking priority, and there is limited outside support available to help with these issues.”

– “Mainstream primary schools are receiving more and more children who need additional support and some who have complex medical needs. This is causing extra
strain on already strained staff…Staff are trying to do their best with little or no help.

“In some schools, there can be as many as half the class with additional support needs, and one teacher has to try to deal with all of this with some help from a classroom assistant.”

– “We are very understaffed. We have to take staff out of class to cover other people’s breaks, lunches and sick days. This has a huge impact on teachers’ planning, and also on children’s behaviour.

“I work in an additional support needs unit and the behaviour in class is affected if they do not have the same people in class every day. This kind of class needs more support so the teacher can do their job. We are there to manage behaviour, teach, toilet pupils, do admin work and various other duties as required. It is not an easy job.”

A 16-page UNISON-produced guide, ‘Managing Difficult Behaviour in Schools’, written by Tom Bennett can be downloaded from here [PDF]; for more information, visit www.unison.org.uk or follow @unisontweets

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