More than half of teaching assistants have experienced physical violence at school in the past year, with new figures also revealing one in five schools did not have an adequate behaviour management policy.
A survey of nearly 15,000 support staff, including teaching assistants, cleaners and catering staff, published by Unison today found almost one in five had experienced violence at school.
Of those, 53 per cent of surveyed teaching assistants said they had experienced physical violence. Another three-quarters (76 per cent) said they had witnessed violence at their school in the past 12 months.
However the report, titled Bad Form: Behaviour in Schools, also found nearly one in five (19 per cent) of those surveyed by the public service union said their school did not have an adequate behaviour management policy.
A further 15 per cent said they did now know about the policy, which the union said suggested their school either did not have one or was not doing enough to publicise it.
Jon Richards, UNISON’s head of education, said abuse is becoming a “regular and alarming” occurrence. “Lessons couldn’t go ahead without teaching assistants and staff should not have to put up with violence and abuse in the classroom.”
He said a lack of resources – due to budget pressures – means schools are unable to address behavioural issues, adding: “Dealing with these problems can dominate the day when time could be better spent supporting children’s learning.”
More than a quarter of support staff said their school did not provide adequate training to address behavioural problems.
And cuts in staff who would normally deal with behaviour issues were reported by a tenth of those surveyed – either through redundancies or posts being left vacant when someone leaves.
Tom Bennett, the government’s behaviour tsar, as part of a guide to be released with the UNISON report, placed “understanding the school behaviour policy” as his “number 1” tip to manage difficult behaviour in schools.
He said: “Every good school should have a behaviour policy. It should also have a clear line management structure that allows staff to work together on behavioural concerns.”
Government guidance states that, for maintained schools, governing bodies are responsible for drawing up a statement of behaviour principles, and the headteacher must then determine measures for the policy, including school rules and penalties for breaking those rules.
For academies, the guidance states proprietors of academies are responsible for ensuring there is a written behaviour policy.
This must set out disciplinary sanctions, if a pupil misbehaves. The guidance adds that while academies are not required by law to publish their behaviour policy online, it is good practice to do so.
The government says it is “vital the behaviour policy is clear, is well understood by staff, parents and pupils, and is consistently applied”.
Unison has now called on schools governors and head teachers to do more to manage the behaviour of disruptive and unruly pupils.
The Department for Education highlighted a speech made by education secretary Nicky Morgan at the NASUWT conference in March, where she said “no teacher should ever have to work in fear of violence”.
She added: “Teachers are the pinnacle of the community, they are charged with the greatest of responsibilities, moulding the next generation, and that means we owe it to you to treat you with the greatest of respect.”