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Physical violence from pupils affects a third of teachers

by    Richard Ross

A teacher who was dangled off the sixth floor by a pupil’s brother reflects on the issues involved, and the importance of parental engagement

Pupil reacting aggressively to being told off

A third of education staff have dealt with physical violence from pupils in this school year, and most blame lack of positive role models at home. Photograph:

An ATL report published today reveals that a third of education staff have dealt with physical violence from pupils this school year, and most found that parents of the pupils involved failed to back the schools.

Most teachers surveyed believe the problem of poor behaviour is getting worse and count the lack of positive role models at home as one of the main reasons. You can read the ATL reporthere.

Our blogger, who has had over 10 years experience working with children with behaviour problems in mainstream schools and PRUs, writes about his experience:

It’s an interesting and challenging time to be teacher for children with behaviour difficulties.

When I say interesting what I mean is there has been a great deal of media coverage around young people, parenting and education following the UK riots and now this new survey by the ATL revealing a third of education staff have dealt with physical violence this year.

Historically these children – and their families have been marginalised/demonised/poked fun of in the media for drinking, swearing and often simply for being poor.

After the riots, however it stopped being as funny to laugh at people who like Reebok classics and McKenzie hooded tops.

Post-Riot attention has shifted to who exactly is to blame for the state of “All The Terrible Children Who Do Terrible Things” (ATTCWDTT as it is commonly known).

There is nothing quite as frustrating, head bangingly predictable and utterly transparent about the blame game around the subject.

Boris Johnson blames teachers for reasons that seem to be a) not voting for him and b) having a summer holiday, while the Head of Schools blames the parents of ATTCWDTT for not being teachers and therefore not being his responsibility.

In my experience it is when people work to together for the common good of the young person that things get better. I say that, of course, not being a political figure desperate to support my own agenda.

I have been working with “hard to reach” children (that’s shorthand for ATTCWDTT) one way or another for nearly 10 years and at the moment am a teacher in a special school for primary aged children with behaviour problems. A normal day can include anything from pupils trying to set fires to a debate around whether if a child throws a “warning punch” it should count as violence.

Although the anecdotes can make enjoyable social safari, the sad truth behind the story of ATTCWDTT is that most of the time they come from a complex family background raised by well meaning but sometimes struggling, unskilled parents who themselves have often been through traumatic and scarring events in life.

These parents are often the most distrusting of any type of professional involvement, understandable as a lot of their experiences with the school system have been negative.

Again, as a society we may laugh at the mindset of a parent who thinks that is ok for their child to punch someone for disrespecting their Lego man. (“You can’t say the Lego man looks queer and get away with it”) but the reality is that as professionals these are the parents and children we need to support the most. Sadly, they are also the easiest to ignore, blame or further isolate. That isolation can come from ridicule or simply through lack of trust and interest from both parties.

Although there has been a lot of good will and sporadic effort towards the engagement of parents there is little guidance, formal policy and training offered to teachers about how to engage with parents successfully.

Often due to this lack of training, teachers and the wider school workforce can lack confidence in attempting to support parents. I know that once when I was dangled off the sixth floor of a tower block by a pupils’ brother for ringing his mother; I thought “I don’t feel prepared for this”. While it is arguable that no amount of teacher style training can prepare you for the wrath of an angry 18 year-old when cornered, some guidance around the topic would have been useful.

Offering guidance on how best to tackle these relationships is a welcome addition. Family Lives’ guide aims to support teachers around the minefield of parental engagement by setting boundaries, offering guidance for appropriate relationships and further contacts so teachers can inform parents whom they should contact for professional support.

Although some of the advice is pretty straight forward (stay safe at all costs, parental relationships are vital), it’s good to have these things spelt out. I know that after a day of being called a “fat lesbian” (I am a skinny man) or being encouraged to “FXXk my poo”, it’s hard to remember any professional standards, especially ones that could in turn lead to more aggressive name calling. Imbedding much of the ethos from the Family Lives’ guide into good practice would surely help the teaching profession as a whole.

I am not saying that there is not a huge amount of fantastic parental support going on already, indeed reading the guide I was encouraged to see how much the staff I work with do in terms of good practice. However from experience, it varies greatly from teacher to teacher and school to school. If we are going to educate and help people from isolated communities, the teaching profession needs to continue developing and maintaining relationships with the most hard to reach parents. In this sense Family Lives’ guide sets a good basic standard from which all school and teachers could set their base.

The problem of troubled youth is not a new one and will surely not be disappearing any time soon. Whether the teaching profession, parents or politicians like it or not we are all in it together, should we all not try and move forward together instead of blaming one another?

• Richard Ross (a pseudonym) has been working with children with BESD in mainstream schools, special schools and PRUs for almost 10 years.

The national charity for families, Family Lives, working in conjunction with the only independent charity for teachers Teacher Support Network, has launched an online resource: Guidance for Head Teachers and School Staff: How to Support Pupils’ Parents to advise educational professionals on how to better work with their pupils’ parents and where they can go for additional support.

Physical violence from pupils affects a third of teachers

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