Exclusive:School violence Scotland: Private emails confirm 'sharp' rise in Scottish school violence and 'almost all' cases involve ASN pupils

The memos have been obtained by The Scotsman under Freedom of Information laws

Education chiefs in parts of Scotland have privately admitted there has been a “sharp increase” in school violence in the past year and the rises are “almost all” linked to pupils with additional support needs.

Emails released to The Scotsman confirm a spike in attacks against school staff, reversing a previous “downward trend” in at least one local authority area.

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The memos also reveal that top education officials across Scotland have discussed figures produced by Perth and Kinross Council, which show 253 pupils were involved in violence and aggression incidents in local schools in 2022/23, of which 210 had additional support needs (ASN).

A breakdown of the data also shows 16 of the pupils involved were in nurseries, 148 were in primaries in Perth and Kinross, 118 were in secondaries, and 23 were in special schools.

This represents 1 per cent of pupils in nursery, primary and secondary, and 20 per cent of those in special schools.

The emails, released by several councils under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, confirm talks involving education directors, education secretary Jenny Gilruth and Scottish Government officials have included “exploration of exclusion guidance”.

Concerns about rising violence in schools has led to a renewed debate in recent weeks about a dramatic reduction in exclusions in Scotland.

The meetings have also considered other topics, including why primary is “worse than secondary”, and the need for “consistency in reporting”.

The talks have been held ahead of a planned summit on violence in Scotland’s schools, promised by Ms Gilruth following a series of shocking cases.

Last month, Carrie Lindsay, former president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, told Holyrood’s education committee that councils were still trying to established a “clear picture” of the trend, and that serious incidents were “not necessarily as prevalent as it would appear from the media”.

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However, emails disclosed to The Scotsman show how senior officials at some local authorities have discussed a significant rise.

On May 31, East Renfrewshire Council’s education senior manager Graeme Hay wrote to the authority’s education director and head of education to provide “the current position with regards to violent incidents against staff”.

He said: “We’ve seen a sharp increase this year following on from a few years where we saw a downward trend.”

East Renfrewshire has some of Scotland’s best performing schools when it comes to exam results, with four secondaries in the “top ten”.

On May 11, Police Scotland superintendent Lorna Gibson wrote to officials in Argyll and Bute and West Dunbartonshire to ask about recent “media reporting” on the subject.

She said: “Based on our own data, we don’t seem to have seen any significant rise in reporting of instances of violence, but I am also very aware that this doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t seeing anything internally.”

In response, Argyll and Bute Council head of education Wendy Brownlie said: “We have seen an increase in incidents in schools.

"However, almost all of these are related directly to a child or young person’s needs and or disability.”

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Ms Brownlie added: “We also have a significant training programme in place to train staff in non-physical de-escalation strategies and where required in appropriate and approved physical interventions.”

In Dundee City, officials have established a short life working group to address “the Teachers’ Panel’s concerns about the process/ incidents of ‘violence and aggression’ in our schools”.

A Dundee City Council spokesperson said: “The Dundee Negotiating Committee for Teachers agreed to form a short life working group to address concerns that have been raised regarding pupil behaviour.

“This group, which is still active, is reviewing local guidance and is led by the chief education officer and a Teachers’ Panel representative."

In Angus, meanwhile, the emails show how one official told education director Kelly McIntosh in January the issue of violence in schools had been raised at First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood.

The legal officer wrote: “Thought I would highlight to you in case there is scope to argue for increased funding.”

Scottish Conservative education spokesman Liam Kerr said the FOI responses obtained by The Scotsman “confirm that councils are dealing with escalating violence in our classrooms”.

He said: “Nobody should be fearful of being attacked within our school environment.

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"The consequences of failure to deal with this will be to drive teachers from the profession, put others off coming in at all, and education standards will nosedive.

“Children and teachers deserve a stable and civilised environment in which to learn and to work.”

A spokesperson for the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the nation’s largest teaching union, said: “Until recently, incidents of serious indiscipline and violence were comparatively rare in our schools, but there has been a marked increase in the number reported in the past few years.

"It is clear that the needs of children and young people are intensifying as a result of crippling poverty, poor mental health and the experience of the pandemic.

"These are all potentially contributory factors in some pupils exhibiting distressed or challenging behaviour.

"In instances where this behaviour escalates to violence, it must be dealt with swiftly and appropriately and in accordance with local authority policies.

"Consistency in the reporting of these incidents will be key to developing an accurate picture of the scale and complexity of the issue in our schools.

"Real solutions, including additional resources to meet rising additional support needs, must be forthcoming to ensure the safety of all in our schools and to improve the learning and teaching environment for students and staff alike.”



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