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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Call for new law to protect teachers
Nigel de Gruchy
Nigel de Gruchy says public servants need better protection

Teachers and nurses should be protected by a new law making it an offence to assault public sector workers, a union leader has proposed.

Nigel de Gruchy, leader of the NASUWT teachers' union, said the level of violence in society was such that the authorities were usually reluctant to prosecute in cases of common assault.


A common assault in a situation of public service has many more profound implications than, say, fans coming out of a football match

Nigel de Gruchy
But he said the effect of an attack in the classroom was often devastating for the teacher and for other pupils.

A government education minister said he did not think a new law was necessary - instead better use should be made of existing sanctions against violent and disruptive pupils and their parents.

Mr de Gruchy was speaking at his union's annual conference, in Scarborough, which on Wednesday is due to debate a resolution demanding that more be done "to maintain good order and discipline in schools".

'Trivial'

The Crown Prosecution Service says that it does take into account a "public interest" factor in deciding whether to bring a prosecution - teachers being figures of authority in society.

Stephen Timms
Mr Timms says a new law is not necessary
But Mr de Gruchy said that in practice the prosecution service would pursue a case only if it involved actual or grievous bodily harm.

What was termed "common assault" was deemed to be too trivial, although there had been prosecutions because of pressure applied by the union.

"We are saying that a common assault in a situation of public service has many more profound implications than, say, fans coming out of a football match."

Wider effect

He said football-related violence was also deplorable of course, but that or an attack "in a pub in the wrong area of town" were of a lower order in the scheme of things - regrettable but no great shock.

"When it takes place in a hospital, for a nurse, or in a classroom, for a teacher, that's a totally different offence.

"If a teacher is assaulted by someone in a classroom the teacher doesn't just suffer - the discipline in the class is reduced, the kids suffer when they see their authority figure assaulted in this way."

The subject arose in his reply to a speech by the School Standards Minister, Stephen Timms.

Mr Timms had reiterated what his boss, the Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, had said at another teachers' union conference last week.

He said there were existing powers that were not being used as fully as they could be.

"We want to explore with local education authorities and teachers what the barriers are to using the legislation that is in place, and, if we need to, we will talk with criminal justice ministers about how the law can be made to work more effectively," he said.

Talking to journalists afterwards, Mr Timms said he did not think new legislation was needed at this stage.

"But the problems have been going on for a long time and they do seem to be getting worse at the moment," he agreed.

See also:

27 Mar 02 | UK Education
26 Mar 02 | UK Education
27 Mar 02 | UK Education
27 Mar 02 | UK Education
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