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An over-reliance on often ineffective restorative approaches to managing poor pupil behaviour in Scotland’s schools is driving a rise in violence and abuse of teachers.

New research examining the scale of pupil behaviour concerns among teachers in Scotland, published today by the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union has found that the overwhelming majority of teachers say verbal and physical abuse from pupils has increased in the last 12 months.

Nearly four in ten (39%) of respondents reported experiencing violence or physical abuse from pupils in the previous 12 months. Members reported being spat at, headbutted, punched and kicked and having furniture, including chairs, thrown at them.

Specific experiences include a teacher who was hit in the abdomen by a window pole and another teacher who was attacked with a scooter and kicked in the chest, resulting in unconsciousness.

93% said the number of pupils exhibiting physically violent and abusive behaviours has increased in the last 12 months.

94% reported receiving verbal abuse, including being sworn at, threatened with serious violence, including threats of being shot, and targeted with racial or sexual insults. 95% said that the number of pupils verbally abusing staff members has increased in the last 12 months.

Nearly four in five teachers (79%) say that the ineffective use of restorative behaviour programmes in their schools is the biggest contributor to a decline in pupil behaviour. 76% also cited a lack of proper policies and procedures in their schools to deter unacceptable behaviour.

Restorative approaches to pupil behaviour management have been increasingly adopted by schools in recent years and focus on the use of structured conversations between staff and pupils to address incidents of poor behaviour, including physical and verbal abuse of staff and fellow students.

73% of members who said that their school uses restorative conversations between pupils and staff as a method for managing behaviour said they felt it was ineffective in dealing with behaviour incidents.

When asked what would most help them in managing pupil behaviour, 84% said pupils with behavioural issues being moved into specialist provision that better meets their needs. 70% cited more engagement from parents and carers and more than six in ten cited more in-class and external support in the form of teaching assistants and access to child phycologists and mental health professionals.

The survey also found that:

  • Nearly a quarter (24%) reported needing time off work due to the stress, physical or mental health impact of violence and abuse from pupils;
  • nearly half (46%) said they are seriously considering leaving as a result of violence and abuse from pupils;
  • Only 8% of teachers said that appropriate action was always taken by their school when they reported behaviour incidents;
  • Over half (55%) strongly agree or agree that they are made to feel to blame by their employer if they have an issue with poor pupil behaviour

Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary, said:

“Our research confirms that too many schools are placing sole responsibility for poor pupil behaviour on teachers.  The culture of teacher blaming has become increasingly widespread, with employers failing to accept their responsibilities for promoting good order.

“It is clear teachers are not getting the protection and backup they deserve. We need concerted action at school and national levels to reduce the incidence of violence, abuse and poor pupil behaviour and restore calm to our schools.

“A failure to tackle violence and abuse in our schools now will have long-lasting consequences, both in terms of teacher recruitment and retention and in equipping young people with the tools they need to become healthy, happy and successful adults.

“The NASUWT will continue to take all steps possible to protect our members from violence and abuse at work and to push for the culture change we need from governments and employers to ensure schools are safe and orderly environments for our children and young people to learn in.”

Mike Corbett, NASUWT National Official Scotland, said:

“While we are not opposed to the use of restorative approaches as part of a range of measures employed by schools to manage pupil behaviour, the feedback from members suggests that all too often restorative systems have become synonymous with no consequences or sanctions for poor behaviour for pupils. 

“Restorative approaches can have benefits, but they should not be used as a one size fits all approach to managing pupil behaviour, particularly incidents of serious violence and abuse. It is also clear from our survey that such approaches are frequently being applied inconsistently and that teachers are not being given the time or training to make such conversations impactful for all pupils.  

“We have been highlighting for some time to government the need for greater action to protect teachers from violence and to address the roots causes of the rise in abuse from pupils. Our actions have helped push the government into convening a National Summit on Relationships and Behaviour in Schools on 5th September in which we will be participating and giving evidence.

“We will be using this platform and continuing to take all steps, up to and including industrial action in individual schools, to support teachers’ right to work in safety. It is now incumbent on ministers and employers to recognise the scale of the problem and work with us to put changes in policy and practice in schools in place.”


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