Tackling Violence in Schools

30 Apr

Last night I did the ITV Wales news live on the issue of violence against teachers in schools.  It is something that has been given a fair bit of coverage in the last few days following the tragic event that occurred in Leeds this week.  (You can view the piece, with my interview starting at 2:42, while it remains online here)

The headline of the debate was centred on the fact there has been 1,000 exclusions for violence or abuse against staff in schools in Wales over a twelve month period between 2011-2012.  As I said in the interview this is an appalling statistic.  One incident of violence against staff, or indeed fellow pupils, is one incident too many.  A thousand is very concerning, especially considering there could be even more examples of such behaviour that have not led to expulsion.

We know that teaching is already a very challenging job.  Many teachers work in tough environments due to the nature of the buildings or communities that they operate in.  It should never be beyond expectations that in doing that job they are entitled to feel safe and secure in the workplace.  Not being physically, or indeed mentally, intimidated is the least any teacher, or any professional regardless of their role, should expect.  We shouldn’t also be fooled into thinking that these 1,000 expulsions would only impact on those pupils.  They have a profound impact on school discipline in general, disrupting lessons and the ability of other pupils to succeed.  There is also the impact it has on stress induced illnesses for teachers, something we know is already at alarming levels.  For any teacher subjected to such abuse it can often be very difficult for them to return to the classroom.

This all being said I think it is important that people are reassured that we do have very open, safe and respectful learning environments in our schools.  What happened in Leeds, while shocking, is a unprecidented incident that is not reflective of our school system here in Wales or indeed across the UK.

Part of the ITV piece looked at introducing airport style metal detector security to schools.  It is something that the Welsh Government changed regulations to allow schools to look at if they wished.  This was an issue also debated on the Radio Wales ‘Morning Call’ programme yesterday. (Again it is available here while it remains active on their website).

I have two very strong reservations about this proposal.  Firstly, I am not convinced that it is practical.  There will be a huge cost implications for bringing in these systems but ultimately they will only guard against a pupil brining in a metal weapon through that particular entrance.  There will inevitably be ways for pupils to smuggle weapons in through other avenues unless the whole perimeter of the school is manned.  Also, who will be charged with undertaking these checks.  Are we expecting teachers to also now act as security guards or will schools be looking to further diminish the tight budgets they have to employ additional staff in these roles.  That is not to say that cost issues should ever be considered above safety.  Far from it, but it is a factor as is the actual capability of schools to enforce this policy.  We want to prevent violence from manifesting itself in schools in the first instance not simply stopping it from occurring at a particular entrance.

The second concern I would have, and perhaps the more important one, is that in taking this step we would potentially be fundamentally changing the ethos that has been established in our schools.  I think in Wales we can be proud that schools a generally seen as safe, positive and open incubators for learning.  Children and staff should feel secure in their schools and see them as an extension of their community spaces.  Will installing such security measures change that perception?  I fear that introducing the notion of being on an almost prison level of alertness to our schools could actually have a detrimental impact on the relationships pupils, parents, teachers and the wider community have with their local school.

We have to be strong in response to any threat or incident of violence in schools.  teachers and headteachers need to know that if they take definitive action to address this sort of behaviour they will be backed completely by their local authority, regional consortia and the new education workforce council.  The safety of staff and pupils has to be paramount.  However, against that backdrop we also need to continue to encourage pupils to feel at home at school.  It is important that in the face of what we have seen this week we do not allow it to change our commitment to embracing an open and welcoming school culture.

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