School violence Scotland: Lack of accurate data undermines efforts to tackle crisis

A mishmash of recording systems means the scale of the school violence problem in Scotland is unknown

Concerns about rising levels of violence and aggressive behaviour in Scotland’s schools have been headline news for at least a year now, but there is still no way to properly measure the scale of the problem.

It is clear from all the statistics that are available, as well as the testimony of school staff through official research and trade union surveys, that it has increased.

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However, the actual number of incidents and the size of the rise remains uncertain, due to the variety of different ways the statistics are recorded by councils and schools, and the lack of standardised definitions of what should be reported.

Primary school pupils during a lesson.Primary school pupils during a lesson.
Primary school pupils during a lesson.

You do not need to delve too deeply into the data to see that there might be discrepancies. Last year, widely-publicised figures showed a significant rise in incidents across Scotland, based on Freedom of Information responses from councils.

But the statistics showed the Scottish Borders had 1,028 incidents in primary schools in 2021/22, which was significantly more than urban councils with far more pupils, including the 771 in Edinburgh and 637 in Aberdeen.

Moray, with one of the smallest pupil rolls of all the mainland councils, was said to have had the highest number of primary school incidents in 2022/23.

The difference in recording systems has been acknowledged as an issue by the Government, and discussed at a summit in September, although nothing has been done about it yet.

While it was clear that comparisons between council areas was difficult, it would have been expected that local authorities would be accurately keeping track of trends in their own figures.

But now it has emerged that some schools, in Stirling anyway, have not been reporting any incidents at all, making the council’s data worthless.

If schools in other parts of the country are also routinely failing to record attacks on staff or pupils, then the problem could be much worse than feared.

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This mishmash of different systems is obviously not acceptable for an issue as important as the safety of school pupils and staff. Decision-makers will not be able to properly address the crisis until they know exactly what is going on. It should be put right, urgently.



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