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Unions 2000 Wednesday, 19 April, 2000, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Disruption teachers are dealing with
Ralph Surman
Ralph Surman: "Behaviour and discipline is breaking down"
By Gary Eason at the ATL conference in Belfast

Disruptive pupils at a secondary school in Nottingham recently broke through the roof of a school building and poured molten pitch through - narrowly missing children in the classroom below.

Builders working on the school were so intimidated by pupils that they left after one day.

When a replacement gang of four workers came in, two did the repair while the other two kept guard.

This is just one of the incidents reported recently to the local representative for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), whose annual conference in Belfast has warned the government that the number of cases of violent and abusive behaviour by pupils is increasing.

The problem is the government's policy of "social inclusion", with a target of reducing school expulsions by a third by 2002.

'Not exceptional'

Ralph Surman, ATL executive member for Nottinghamshire, said one pupil was excluded temporarily from school over the roof incident.

But he said the problem was now that it was extremely difficult to get a pupil permanently expelled.

conference delegates listening to speakers
Conference delegates are worried about increasing violence in schools

He had realised from talking to colleagues at the conference that Nottingham was not exceptional - similar things were happening all over.

"The impact is that behaviour and discipline is breaking down," he said.

"In the 20 or so secondary schools in Nottingham you are talking of 20 incidents of a major type each day.

"I visited a school where all the notice boards had been ripped down and the kids had gone through the plaster and were using the bricks for all sorts of interesting schemes."

Detention 'not working'

Abusive language towards staff, once regarded as a serious offence, was now so commonplace teachers just tried to ignore it.

"If you put pupils in detention they won't turn up. What do you do? In the end you give up - so the discipline policy is not implemented."

Sue Ayres
Sue Ayres: "Teaching with my hands tied behind my back"

Phil Baker from Swindon told the conference during a debate on the stress teachers were under, dealing with disruptive pupils, about a boy who had been roaming a secondary school in the town for 18 months "causing havoc".

"Two weeks after he was admitted to a special referral unit he stabbed the deputy head teacher with a pencil," he said.

ATL lawyer Martin Pilkington said the union was currently assessing 13 cases of teachers injured either as a result of attacks by pupils or attempts to restrain violent pupils.

Damages claims

In one of the most recent, a newly-qualified secondary school teacher in her 20s shut herself in a cupboard to escape a pupil who had already hit and injured her.

Altogether, the damages being sought from the teachers' employers amounted to almost 1.5m.

But delegates were told that it was extremely difficult to get compensation. It could take four years to prove negligence through the courts.

An alternative was to turn to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, but even if teachers were successful the amount of compensation was low, according to Brian Waggett.

Delegates backed his proposal that the government should be called on to underwrite an insurance scheme which would provide automatic compensation for teachers who had been assaulted.

Call for better training

There was also a call for better training for teachers

David Guiterman, from Cornwall, argued that teachers in mainstream schools who found themselves having to handle difficult pupils needed training in defusing difficult situations.

To make his point he told the conference about a colleague who had been working late in a residential school for children with behavioural difficulties.

As he was leaving a 15-year-old girl, who had had a deprived upbringing, and who was devoted to him, came up, threw her arms around him and kissed him.

It was 10pm and dark. Would anybody see what was happening? What should he do?

"If, in the two seconds Geoff had to react, you would have known what to do, please would you raise your agenda papers," Mr Guiterman challenged delegates.

No hands went up.

"Geoff no longer teaches at this school," he told them.

"He is now head of special educational needs in Cornwall - so he clearly did the right thing."

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19 Apr 00 | Unions 2000
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