It’s been reported that there seems to be a significant increase in classroom violence and abuse aimed at teachers by pupils and parents over the last few years. Is this a reflection on a society, the way we treat front line workers and how does it compare to other sectors?

The Independent states that nearly one in four teachers are physically attacked by pupils at least once a week. Nine in ten teachers say they have suffered physical or verbal abuse from pupils in the last year – and it has driven more than half of teachers to seriously consider quitting the job.

Teacher Tapp have found that 39% of primary teachers and 26% of secondary teachers say that  they’ve been subjected to verbal abuse by a parent or carer during the last academic year.

Some schools will definitely be more effective than others, with some having a no tolerance approach with no incidents compared to other schools where teachers feel that it just comes part and parcel with the job.

My fingernail turned black

As someone who has been on the receiving end of physical and verbal abuse by pupils and parents as a secondary school teacher it’s certainly not a pleasant experience. The feeling of a heavy classroom door being slammed into your back in front of 30 teenagers and having to carry on to teach winded for another 50 minutes is something I’ve not experienced in other jobs to say the least! 

One of my fingernails turned black and subsequently fell off from a separate incident when a pupil kicked the classroom door and trapped my fingers against the door frame. In both incidents I felt the school didn’t take appropriate action against the pupils (whether it was down to a lack of school policy or resource as I suspect numerous incidents like this were happening on a regular basis).

Similarly, with verbal abuse. The majority of teachers will say they have been on the receiving end from being sworn at to rude or sexualised comments.

Unless it is a serious incident, some teachers will put up with being barged past, being spoken to unpleasantry by pupils and parents as the procedures are not in place to tackle this sort of behaviour. 

Will it need a formal Bill to come into effect to protect teachers rather than relying on internal school policies to safeguard teachers?

What happens in other sectors?

Emergency services

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill came into effect in November 2018, doubling the penalties for assaulting ambulance crews and other blue-light workers. This covers police, prison officers, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue services and paramedics. The government explained at the time, “Every day these public servants do extraordinary work on our behalf, and they must be able to do it without the fear of being assaulted. Our message is clear – we will protect our emergency services and violence towards them will not be tolerated.” It is hoped that the Bill will serve as a deterrent and thereby reduce offences.

Retail workers

The BBC reports that a survey of over 4,000 retail staff by shop workers’ union Usdaw, found that around two-thirds have experienced verbal abuse, while 41% were threatened by a customer and nearly 5% were assaulted. The report found that retail staff are abused, threatened or assaulted on average 21 times a year. There is a campaign for signs up in stores telling customers to respect staff, more police on patrol and for retailers to impose a life-time ban on customers who persistently abuse shop workers. Abusive customers should also have to face criminal charges, they said.

Railway staff

One example in the railway sector, is the Staff SafeGuarding Group which was established as a partnership between British Transport Police and the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) in the North East of England. One of its objectives is to facilitate and develop cross industry initiatives to combating and reducing staff assault and intimidation. One of its reports explains that this innovative group offers a real hands on approach to practical problem solving and sharing of best practice in an area which is certainly high profile within the industry and has had some great results.

Why is this happening across different sectors?

With all the statistics above, it doesn’t explain why there is a rise in abusive behaviour towards staff  just getting on with their jobs. Are people getting angrier, less impatient and feel there won’t be consequences for verbally abusing or assaulting front line staff? Has there been a breakdown in values where if a train is not on time, a parent doesn’t agree with the viewpoint of a teacher or a shop owner refuses to sell alcohol to a 17 year old that the member of staff is fair game?

Is it just a UK phenomenon where posters have to be placed at train stations to tell members of the public to respect train staff, can these be found in Japan, China or India? Let’s hope there is an improvement, as it is a worrying trend where an ideal world no member of staff should have to tolerate abuse.

Let us know your thoughts

If you have any ideas to tackle this issue or whether you think the government should be more involved in drafting legislation to safeguard teachers, let us know in the comments below. 

If you are a teacher who has been assaulted by a pupil in school you may find the following support article useful for support and advice.

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