Norfolk teachers face rise in young pupil violence

Sarah Brealey Norfolk education chiefs defended the 'vast majority' of children last night as research found growing numbers of teachers suffering violence from pupils who are becoming aggressive at an ever younger age.

Sarah Brealey

Norfolk education chiefs defended the “vast majority” of children last night as research found growing numbers of teachers suffering violence from pupils who are becoming aggressive at an ever younger age.

One Norfolk teacher had a chair and a cricket bat thrown at him by an out-of-control five-year-old, according to the research by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

The rising tide of classroom violence by tiny tearaways has left more than one in four teachers battling mental health problems, while three-quarters said their jobs were being made more difficult by the issue.

But the situation was being made worse because teachers preferred to “grin and bear it”, rather than make a fuss, according to a Norfolk teachers' union leader.

Andrew McCandlish, Norfolk ATL secretary, said the problems were not restricted to the tougher inner-city areas.

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He said: “This survey reflects growing concerns among all education professionals.

“Sadly it takes a survey like this to reveal the depth of the issue.

“What concerns me is that teachers are grinning and bearing it. Primary school teachers are committed first and foremost to children. They will take a heck of a lot before they say anything.”

He added: “In primary schools action is limited. There is often the choice of a pupil remaining in the class or being permanently excluded. With Ofsted taking a dim view of exclusions, the teacher usually has to face the assailant, which, I suspect, can do more damage to their mental wellbeing than the actual assault.

“Assault and abuse are one of many unacceptable stresses put on classroom staff, and can be the final straw for some.”

The national survey found that:

More then half (55.1pc) of primary school teachers believed pupil behaviour had become worse over the past five years;

Over three-quarters (76pc) said pupils were becoming more aggressive at an earlier age;

59pc said their colleagues had experienced physical aggression in school from pupils;

Two in five (40.5pc) had suffered a loss of confidence after dealing with disruptive pupils, while 26.5pc had suffered from mental health problems and 16.7pc had suffered physical harm from a pupil.

The survey carried anonymous comments from teachers, including one from Norfolk who said: “I have had a cricket bat thrown at me and a chair thrown by a five-year-old. Many children have aggressive tantrums.”

Shelagh Hutson, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for children's services, said: “The vast majority of children in Norfolk's schools are well behaved and treat their teachers and classmates with respect.

“However, we know that there are issues of poor behaviour with a minority of pupils in Norfolk's schools and this minority can have a negative impact on both teaching and learning.

“Some primary schools have pupils who arrive at school with poor social and communication skills and staff work tirelessly to help the development of these youngsters.

“We know that projects to support children and parents from birth through to school, such as Sure Start Children's Centres, are beginning to have an impact.

“However, poor behaviour, particularly violent behaviour, is never acceptable and schools are working extremely hard to tackle it.”

She added: “Norfolk's teachers do a fantastic job in what can be a very challenging profession and we would always encourage staff to report issues of violence or abuse to their headteacher, governors or a professional body.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said: “Teachers are telling us that children are becoming aggressive or highly disruptive in class at younger ages. It is making it even harder to teach primary children.

“Schools need to have consistent behaviour policies, but it is equally important that parents support these policies. More and more teachers tell us that they are having to set up parenting classes as some parents are struggling to deal with their children's behaviour.”