Teaching unions call for action as Edinburgh assault cases soar

Teaching unions have called for 'urgent action' following an increase in the number of assaults on staff at Edinburgh primary schools.
Teaching unions have called for 'urgent action' following an increase in the number of assaults on staff at Edinburgh primary schools.
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Teaching unions have called for “urgent action” following an increase in the number of assaults on staff at Edinburgh primary schools.

The number of injuries suffered by staff in primary schools reported to health and safety experts increased by 42 per cent from 2016 to 2017.

Last year there were 883 injuries sustained by staff through assaults and violence in Edinburgh schools, including 423 at primary schools.

There were 1,574 injuries to employees of Edinburgh City Council overall last year, including 944 assaults - 90 per cent of which took place at schools.

READ MORE: £290k paid out to Scots teachers for assaults and injuries

The council put the primary school increase partly down to better reporting of injuries from assaults, but concerns have been raised over support for staff teaching pupils with additional needs in mainstream schools.

The council predicts the number of primary school pupils in the city with additional support needs will rise from 31,108 this year to 32,245 by 2022. A council report states “it is becoming increasingly challenging to operate within the resources available”.

Teaching unions have called for more support for staff.

Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) Edinburgh local association secretary Alison Murphy said: “At our recent EIS Edinburgh AGM, members spoke passionately and at length about the problems of dealing with increasing numbers of young people with severe additional support needs being placed into mainstream classes without the necessary in-class support.

“This issue needs to be acknowledged and addressed so that schools can support staff, improve the situation for pupils in classes who are frequently having their education disrupted and, very importantly, make things better for pupils with profound additional needs who are not getting the specialist support they need and deserve.”

The report by Susan Tannahill, the council’s senior manager for health and safety, said 60 per cent of overall injuries to council employees resulted from violence and assaults.

The document added: “The majority of these injuries were in schools and mostly in relation to service users with additional support needs for learning.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT union, labelled the statistics the “tip of the iceberg”.

READ MORE: Teacher attacked by primary school pupil wins damages

She said: “The increase in the number of teachers being injured in the course of their work is extremely worrying, particularly as the council states the majority of these injuries were due to violence and aggression from pupils.

“Whilst some of the increase may be explained by increased reporting, there is clearly a serious problem, which requires urgent action.

“Given the pressure placed on teachers by some schools not to report incidents and the blame culture teachers too often face when they report violent and disruptive behaviour, we must regard these latest figures as the tip of the iceberg.”

Ms Keates added: “The presumption of mainstream policy is where pressure is brought to bear to retain pupils in mainstream schools, despite it being clear that their needs cannot be met and resources to support them are not available.

“Research by NASUWT shows that teachers in Scotland consider pupil indiscipline to be one of their top concerns about their job. No one should ever have to go to work with the expectation of being assaulted and abused and yet this is the reality for too many teachers.”

Findings published by the city council highlighted a 16 per cent drop in the overall number of reportable injuries to council employees from 2016 to 2017. There has been a slight drop in injuries to school staff over the same period, but injuries to staff at primary schools have increased by 42 per cent.

Council education convener Cllr Ian Perry said: “We treat injuries to our school staff very seriously and will always support them when incidents occur. It is an unfortunate reality that physical forceful behaviour can occur in schools and we always aim to ensure staff have the skills and confidence to manage these situations to reduce the risk of injury.

“When injuries happen in supporting children with additional support needs, they are often indicative of a pupil’s distress. To support our staff we have introduced a far-reaching training programme in schools, which includes restorative approaches, positive behaviour management strategies and autism-friendly practice.”

Opposition councillors have called for more support for school staff and pupils with educational needs.

Green Cllr Mary Campbell said: “Between 2012/13 and 2015/16, the number of young people in Edinburgh with identified additional support needs rose by 36 per cent while funding for support only went up by 10 per cent.

“So it seems obvious that there are some children at school who are not getting the support they need. Without that extra help, the task then falls on an already-stretched class teacher.”

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