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January 26, 2010

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Teachers told to avoid breaking up brawls

Teachers in Scotland are being warned not to intervene in school-ground

fights between pupils after a local authority ruled out paying

compensation to a teacher who was injured while trying to break up a

struggle.

The 58-year-old female teacher was accidentally struck in the mouth while trying to break up a skirmish between two pupils at a special school in Glasgow last year. She has since undergone dental work to repair teeth broken in the incident.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) wrote to Glasgow City Council on her behalf, requesting that her dental bill be paid on account of her injuries having been sustained at work. However, the council replied that it was not to blame for the injuries, and that the claim was therefore invalid.

Following the council’s decision, the Association said it would be writing to all its members to warn them of the risks involved in stepping in to break up fights.

SSTA general secretary, Ann Ballinger, said: “Intervening in a fight can incur a considerable amount of risk to the member of staff, but teachers are prepared to do that because it is in the best interests of the pupils and the school.

“If teachers feel they do not have the full support of their local-authority employer if they are injured in such an incident, then it puts school staff in a very difficult position where they may be less inclined to get involved.”

A council spokeswoman said: “All claims are judged on their individual merits. Advice is given to staff to consider their own safety and not put themselves at risk or any danger in a particular situation. We take the safety of our staff and pupils very seriously.”

Announcing the Conservatives’ education manifesto last week, David Cameron claimed that pupil behaviour can act as a barrier to teachers entering, and staying in, the profession, and pledged to do more to protect teachers from physical and verbal abuse.

Said Cameron: “It doesn’t matter how bright you are, or how much money you get, no one wants to put up with being assaulted or abused — as thousands of teachers are every year — in the workplace. That’s why any plan to elevate the status of teaching in our country must also include giving them the powers and protections they need to keep order. Over the last decade, these have been slowly stripped away.”

Describing the measures the Tories would take to instil discipline in schools, he added: “We’re going to say to our teachers, if you want to search for and confiscate any item you think is dangerous or disruptive, you can. And if you want protection from false allegations of abuse that wreck lives and wreck careers, we’ll make sure you have it.”

However, teachers’ unions remain sceptical of the Conservatives’ plans. Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, told SHP: “Teachers already have the right to use reasonable force to remove disruptive pupils. The problems come over interpretation of what is reasonable, and the potential for false allegations to be made over exactly how a teacher has removed a pupil. There is the potential for ambiguity, which leaves teachers unsure of what situations are unreasonable.”  
 
She argued that it is too risky for school staff to search pupils, and this should be left to the Police. She also stressed that “the details need to be right” so that “any measures or new powers help schools eliminate disruptive behaviour while retaining mutual respect between school staff and pupils”.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates suggested that school staff are unaware of the powers available to them concerning pupil behaviour. She said: “Teachers, headteachers and other staff in schools already have a significant range of powers over behaviour and other related issues. The problem the NASUWT and the Government have identified is that many members of the school workforce are unaware that they have these powers.

“While it is important to note that there has been some very important work undertaken recently to address this, it is clear that these efforts will need to be continued and developed further.”

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