More than half of teaching assistants say they have experienced physical violence in the classroom in the past year, according to a report published by trade union Unison.
One respondent claimed to have been “kicked, punched, slapped, headbutted and insulted verbally by children”. Another, a teaching assistant at a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, feared going to work in case they suffered a serious injury.
“I am very concerned about the high level of violence that staff are being asked to deal with on a daily basis,” the respondent said. “I go to work worrying that I may be badly injured – or that one of my colleagues will. The verbal abuse is constant.”
The Unison report, entitled Bad Form: Behaviour in Schools, finds that almost one-fifth of educational support staff, including business managers, technicians, librarians, administrative workers, caretakers, cleaners and catering personnel, have experienced violence.However, teaching assistants “bear the brunt”, with three-quarters of those questioned claiming to have witnessed violence in school and more than half (53%) saying they had received verbal threats, usually from pupils (85% of cases), but also from parents (31%).
Unison claimed that the behaviour is linked to staff cuts due to budget constraints. More than one-tenth of the 14,500 people who took part in the survey pointed out that there had been reductions in staff numbers, either as a result of redundancy or posts left vacant following a departure. One-fifth said their school did not have an adequate behaviour management policy.
Unison’s head of education, Jon Richards, said: “These are not just occasional incidents. Abuse is becoming a regular and alarming occurrence, with more than half of teaching assistants coming across violent behaviour in the classroom, the playground or at the school gates.
“A lack of resources means schools are unable to address behavioural issues. Dealing with these problems can dominate the day, when time could be better spent supporting children’s learning.”