Nearly half of teachers in Fife who took part in a recent survey revealed they have experienced physical abuse or violence from students in the last year – and nearly all had experienced verbal abuse.
The findings show the region is slightly worse than the national average, and more than half of surveyed teachers locally are seriously considering leaving the profession.
The national survey from the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) who released the figures last week.
A total of 358 members from across Scotland took part in the survey – 62 of which were in Fife.
Mike Corbett, NASUWT national official for Scotland, says the snapshot survey builds on what the union already knows – pupil violence and behaviour is getting worse.
“I think we’ve known for some time that behaviour has been problematic in schools,” Mr Corbett said. “That was true pre-pandemic and it was something we highlighted with national and local government even back then.
“However, what is certainly true is that it is a problem that has gotten worse during and post-pandemic. So those figures that we’ve shared are certainly the worst that we have ever seen.”
He continued: “Something that was already a problem and a concern and something that already needed to be addressed is – you could argue – is really getting to a crisis level now. The urgency in getting it addressed properly is immediate.”
The survey report provides a lot of information about what teachers are experiencing in classrooms.
It revealed that 45% in Fife have experienced physical abuse or violence from pupils in the last 12 months compared to only 39% across Scotland.
Fife teachers who have experienced violence say they have been hit or punched (16%); kicked (11%); spat at (8%) and head-butted (5%). However, 47% said they have been shoved or barged in the past year.
When it comes to non-physical violence, 97% of teachers in Fife have experienced verbal abuse from pupils, which is just slightly higher than 94% of teachers across the rest of the country.
Backchat and rudeness are the most common verbal issues, but 95% of teachers in Fife reported being sworn at by students.
The survey also concluded that part of the issue is related to how violent misbehaviour is dealt with in schools: 76% of responding teachers in Fife claim their school culture perpetuates the belief that poor student behaviour is just part of the job and that teachers should expect to receive abuse and violence from students.
Even more teachers from the survey – 87% in Fife and 83% nationally – do not feel they have the resources, support or knowledge to meet the behavioural needs of all the pupils they teach.
Following the survey, Mr Corbett sat down with Fife Council leader David Ross (Labour) to discuss what more can be done locally to protect teachers and tackle poor behaviour from students.
“I don’t think we’re asking for the earth here,” Mr Corbett said.
“We’re looking for clear guidance for schools, headteachers, and teachers themselves about what is and what is not acceptable, how things should be reported and how things should be followed up. All with the view to have a more conducive atmosphere for learning.”
Cllr Ross called it a “positive” meeting.
“We know that teachers and school communities across Scotland are concerned about the increase in violent incidents in schools and it’s something we’re taking very seriously,” he said.
“Mr Corbett was clear that the work already being undertaken across Fife, in response to these challenges, is very much in line with what would be expected by the union.”
He continued: “It was recognised that Fife has developed a robust system to report and record incidents in order that the appropriate policies and approaches can be put in place to support our staff, pupils and families. We were advised that this is not the same across all local authorities.”
According to Councillor Ross, the fact that school staff are encouraged to report any incident means that more NASUWT members in Fife were comfortable in providing this information in response to the survey.
“The welfare and wellbeing of everyone in our schools is our first priority and all our schools place the importance of relationships at the centre of what they do.
Learning about positive relationships is something that begins at home and our parents and carers have a key role to play in this too,” Cllr Ross added.
“Any form of violence towards teachers and pupils is unacceptable and we’re committed to safe working practices and training for our staff.”
According to Cllr Ross, Fife Council focuses on working together with school communities, trade unions and families to de-escalate situations and promote positive behaviour.
He stated: “The safety and wellbeing of all our children and staff is a priority. Unfortunately there is no easy answer to these problems being experienced not only in Fife but across Scotland.
“However we are working hard and will continue to work with all our school communities, to make sure all our staff and young people have a positive experience at school.”
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