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Norfolk teachers punched, scratched and hit with chairs and stationery by pupils

PUBLISHED: 05:30 23 July 2019 | UPDATED: 13:20 23 July 2019

Around three-quarters of school staff in Norfolk who answered the NEU's survey have suffered physical and verbal abuse in the past year. Separate data shows attacks come from pupils of all ages. Picture: Getty Images

Around three-quarters of school staff in Norfolk who answered the NEU's survey have suffered physical and verbal abuse in the past year. Separate data shows attacks come from pupils of all ages. Picture: Getty Images

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Teachers in Norfolk have had chairs and scissors thrown at them and been injured during assaults by pupils, a survey reveals.

The National Education Union (NEU) polled almost 300 teachers in the county and found three-quarters (74pc) had been abused or assaulted at work in the past year, with two-thirds being sworn at or verbally abused and one-third being punched, hit or pinched.

Those polled told horror stories of attacks and threats by students: one teacher was threatened with stabbing by a female pupil; another had their hair ripped out in an assault; one said they were "grabbed between the legs" by a student; and many reported having furniture and stationery thrown at them.

While the vast majority of incidents (93.5pc) were committed by pupils, some who responded to the survey said they had been threatened or verbally abused by parents - including one who was sworn at by a grandmother.

Only 88pc of those who said they had been abused or assaulted on the NEU poll said they reported the incident - but of those only 55pc said action had been taken by school leadership.

Of those who didn't report, nearly one-third (30pc) said it was because they felt they might be blamed or victimised.

Scott Lyons, NEU Norfolk joint district secretary, said abuse or the threat of it was a "day-to-day reality for many staff".

Scott Lyons, NEU Norfolk joint district secretary. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYScott Lyons, NEU Norfolk joint district secretary. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

"One of the most disturbing things was the increase in racism. We have noticed an increase in case work and it has driven teachers away from the UK," he said.

"There are huge mitigating factors including austerity and security of money and food which can contribute to children showing increasingly violent and aggressive behaviour.

"One of the big challenges for education staff is making sure there is a timely and appropriate response by the school to challenging circumstances.

"You can feel unsafe in the safest of settings if you are not supported.

"We are trying to equip employers, support schools and challenge parents and we are running first aid mental health training so teachers who have suffered trauma or abuse can get help to deal with it - but that is no antidote for what is going on."

Alan Fletcher, principal and King's Lynn Academy, said the school rarely saw incidents of violence or threats towards staff but that he had noticed an increase in foul language, which staff were working to stamp out.

Alan Fletcher, principal at King's Lynn Academy, said the school very rarely sees instances or threats of abuse to staff - he thanks a culture of 'mutual respect' between staff and students. Picture: Ella WilkinsonAlan Fletcher, principal at King's Lynn Academy, said the school very rarely sees instances or threats of abuse to staff - he thanks a culture of 'mutual respect' between staff and students. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

The school also has a specialist behaviour unit for students with more challenging needs, staffed by highly-trained support workers.

"We are lucky with the relationships we have between students and staff. We have an environment where mutual respect is the norm," he said.

"I am also in the unusual position that I have an HR team in the building so there are trained staff and trained counsellors if anything like this were to happen."

Data shows the threat of abuse and assault is taking a mental and physical toll on school staff.

Nearly 20 respondents in the NEU survey said they had taken sick leave in the past year because of physical injury or stress resulting from violence or threats of violence.

A separate national survey by the NASUWT teachers' union, in which 89pc of respondents said they had been verbally or physically abused at work, revealed that 70pc of school staff felt their job had affected their mental health in the past 12 months.

Staff admitted they had turned to drink, self-harm and prescription drugs including anti-depressants to cope with the stress of the job.

Meanwhile research published by Ofsted on Monday revealed that the overall wellbeing of most teachers was low with high workloads, poor work-life balance and too little support from leaders - especially for managing bad behaviour - weighing heavily on many.

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: "Teaching is one of the most important jobs there is, so we need to make sure it is highly valued by society and a rewarding career to choose."

The surveys and research come after the Education Support Partnership revealed it had seen calls to its emotional support helpline rise by 28pc between 2017 and 2019, with a record 9,600 calls coming in between April 2018 and March 2019.

There was also a more than 50pc increase in the number of callers being clinically assessed to be at risk of suicide.

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