The scale of violence in schools
The HSE lists those that work in education as one of the occupational groups most at risk from workplace violence. The table below shows the risk of violence at work for employees, reproduced from the 2016/17 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). The results show that teaching and education professionals have a higher than average rate of violence at work.
Across all groups, teachers have the eighth highest level of violence at work, out of 25 occupational areas. This indicates that the level of violence against teachers is higher than in a number of occupational groups, including sales and customer service occupations and skilled trades.
A survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) in 2016 found that 40 per cent of teachers had experienced violence from pupils in the past year. Of those who had been subjected to violence, nearly 80 per cent said they had been pushed and around half had been kicked or had an object thrown at them.
Freedom of Information (FOI) requests submitted to local authorities in Wales by NEU Cymru in January 2017 found that there was on average eight assaults a day on teachers in schools in Wales.
FOI requests submitted in 2013 found that there had been more than 4,000 assaults on teachers working in schools in London in the previous five years.
Department for Education (DfE) figures for 2014/15 show that there were 20,770 exclusions for violence against an adult and 52,710 exclusions for verbal abuse or threatening behaviour against an adult during that year.
A 2009 European study demonstrated that the risk of psychological harm to teachers is not confined to the UK. It found: “While physical risks are low in the education sector, exposure to psychological risks is high… exposure to threats of physical violence and actual acts of violence from colleagues and non-colleagues is highly prevalent in the education sector.”
Taking action on violence, abuse and assaults in schools
The incidence of violence and assaults on teaching staff – in addition to the stress arising from working in environments where the fear of violence and assaults exists – are both examples of risks to teacher health, safety and welfare which must be assessed and controlled.
Local authorities, governing bodies, academy trusts and all other employers of teachers must:
- consider the risk of violence and assault on members of their workforce
- consider the risk of stress which arises from working in fear of violence or assault
- take steps to remove the risk
- where removal of the risk is not possible, reduce the risk by any necessary changes in working practices or by introducing appropriate protective or supportive measures.
These steps should be addressed via a risk assessment, which must be kept under review and updated as necessary. Employers should also monitor the effectiveness of control measures by monitoring incident rates and through engagement with the work force and their trade union safety representatives.
The HSE has detailed guidance for employers on how to undertake a workplace violence risk assessment.
Violence involving pupils at school
Managing pupil behaviour
The DfE has guidance on managing pupil behaviour in schools. This includes use of reasonable force in schools, managing behaviour and bullying in schools case studies, and behaviour and discipline in schools.
Individual pupil behaviour risk assessments
The measures set out in the guidance above details the ways in which poor pupil behaviour can be tackled through the use of school codes of conduct and their accompanying sanctions, including exclusion.
Violent or intimidating pupil behaviour can also be addressed through appropriate health and safety measures in which the risk to staff and pupils of injury and psychological distress can be managed and controlled. Individual pupil risk assessments can be useful in such situations. Comprehensive NEU guidance on individual pupil behaviour risk assessment is available in the health and safety section of the website.
Violent incidents involving adults from the wider community
Comprehensive advice on dealing with the risk of violence from outside the school, such as that perpetrated or threatened by parents or other adults from the wider community, can be found in the archived DfE publication: A legal toolkit for schools – tackling abuse, threats and violence towards members of the school community.
It is important to note that as this is archived content, it may not reflect current government policy.
The toolkit provides advice on:
- legal remedies available to schools and employers to combat this problem
- risk assessments
- police-school protocols
- the reporting of violent incidents
- the formulation of school policies and procedures designed to tackle incidents involving abusive, threatening or violent adult visitors.
Incidents in the school vicinity
Consideration should also be given to the risk of violent incidents occurring not directly on the school premises, but in the wider vicinity of the school, and potentially involving members of the school community. For instance, schools, particularly in inner city areas, are known to have been affected by knife crime injuries or deaths, often in close proximity to the site. The risk assessment should consider the possibility of such incidents occurring, and whether violent events have previously occurred in the wider community.
Reducing the risk of knife crime and violent incidents in the community is likely to involve co-ordinated behaviour with external agencies such as the police, charities and youth groups and the wider community in general. Schools should be clear about where their remit ends and begins; for instance, it is not the role of school staff to monitor public areas outside the school vicinity. If there are concerns about criminal or dangerous activity taking place, the police should be contacted.
If a tragic incident, such as one involving knife crime, does impact the school, the following steps should be considered in the aftermath, in order to support pupils, parents and staff:
- Initially, a rapid response meeting between the school and police should be convened – this is particularly important if there is a continuing risk, for instance if the perpetrator is still at large.
- Counselling should be provided to the whole school community (staff, pupils and parents) in the immediate aftermath and continuing as required. Some larger schools employer counsellors, and this assists with the provision of support, should a crisis occur.
- Speakers and organisations should be invited in to the school to take assemblies, provide training etc for pupils in order to de-glorify knife crime.
Your legal rights
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 places a duty on employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health of their employees at work. This includes taking steps to make sure they do not suffer violence, abuse or stress-related illness as a result of their work. This statutory regime supplements the ‘common law’ obligations on employers to provide reasonably safe working environments for their employees. Employers also have a specific duty under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to undertake risk assessments that seek to identify and eliminate or reduce risks to their employees’ health, safety and welfare.
Employers are legally required to consult their employees and their elected representatives about health and safety arrangements, including their procedures for preventing and monitoring violent incidents.
The HSE has published guidance – Violence at Work: a guide for employers – which may also be useful for safety representatives and employees. Although not specific to schools, the guide acknowledges that education is one of the most at-risk sectors for experiencing violence at work. The term violence refers to verbal abuse and threats as well as physical violence. The guidance sets out a number of steps which can assist with the effective management of violence which involves carrying out a risk assessment.
Employer policies on violence, abuse and assaults
The HSE states that all employers should have clear policies and procedures that set out how they will prevent, manage and respond to work related violence. The NEU has produced a model policy for employers which sets out how they should respond to violence and assaults in schools. It addresses issues such as: the employer’s legal responsibilities; risk assessment; reporting procedures; dealing with weapons; assaults by pupils and support for victims. Where a school or employer does not have an equivalent policy, NEU reps and local officers should encourage the implementation of this model policy.
Reporting incidents of violence and abuse
All accidents and injuries should be reported, no matter how trivial they might appear. This is as true of verbal abuse as it is of physical assault, as the psychological harm which can follow such incidents can lead to very real illness and mental distress for those who are unfortunate enough to experience them.
The HSE advises that records of violent behaviour and assaults should include the following:
- a record in the incident reporting system
- a note of what happened, when and who was involved
- details of any circumstances that staff think could have contributed to the incident.
The HSE and TUC advise that employers should prepare a specific form for reporting instances of violence and abuse, both physical and verbal.
Additionally, the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) require that employers must inform the HSE of the following:
- all accidents to employees results in deaths or ‘specified injuries’
- all accidents which result in an employee being off work due to injuries for more than seven days
- all accidents to non-employees which result in them being killed or taken to hospital and which are connected with work.
The definition of accidents includes assaults so that injuries resulting from assaults are also reportable. The NEU is particularly concerned that these are reported to the HSE and recorded by the employer whenever necessary.
Furthermore, any violence or abuse in relation to a protected characteristic (age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation) may constitute illegal harassment under the Equality Act 2010.
Following any incident involving violence or assault, risk assessments should also be reviewed in the light of the incident, to identify whether additional measures are necessary. Further advice on all these matters can be found in the NEU briefings on accidents and injuries, and risk assessments.
Safer School Partnerships
Safer School Partnerships (SSPs) arose from a joint initiative between the DfE, the Home Office, the Youth Justice Board and the Association of Chief Police Officers. The SSP initiative aims to provide structured ways in which schools can work with the local police force to achieve the following aims:
- to reduce the prevalence of crime and victimisation among young people
- to enhance the learning environment via a safe and secure school community
- to help young people achieve their full educational potential
- to engage young people, challenge poor behaviour and build mutual respect within the school community.
SSP arrangements can include police officers with a responsibility for liaising with, and visiting, groups of local schools, for instance to deliver training and assemblies.
The intention of introducing SSPs was to co-ordinate the various agencies, including the schools, employer and police, work together to develop a protocol based on shared principles, and clearly set out roles and responsibilities of the various partners in the initiative. In 2009, there were around 450 SSPs in place, with approximately 5,000 schools involved in such schemes. However, cuts to the police in recent years have had an impact on the availability of SSPs, and it is likely that fewer partnerships are now in operation.
For more information, please download the full ‘Violence in schools’ guidance