Survey Reveals Shocking Violence Suffered by Regions School Support Staff

A survey of school support staff in Dumfries and Galloway found a substantial number had experienced violent incidents while working at schools, nurseries and education centres.


UNISON Dumfries and Galloway branch carried out a survey of all education support staff to determine how violence in schools impacted on them. Over 400 responses from staff at over 100 schools, nurseries and education centres throughout Dumfries and Galloway were received, which painted a harrowing picture of the extent of the problem.


Feedback was provided by support staff in various roles including learning assistants, early years practitioners, attendance and wellbeing officers, early years support assistants, nursery nurses, nursery managers, early years practitioners, janitors, cooks, homelink workers, cleaners, clerical/admin workers, catering managers, technicians, library staff, communications and digital development workers, and even some teachers.


When asked about types of violent behaviour they had experienced, 92 per cent reported they had experienced shouting and 89 per cent swearing. However over 80 per cent did not consider this to be violent behaviour. This is despite the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) definition of work-related violence as “Any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work.” This definition includes verbal abuse or threats, including face-to-face, online and via telephone – and physical attacks.


Kicking was experienced by 80 per cent. The numbers who experienced having objects thrown at them and being pushed and shoved was 79 per cent. Slapping and punching was experienced by 76 per cent. Biting, spitting and nipping were experienced by 62, 61 and 57 per cent respectively, scratching and gouging by 53 per cent and hairpulling by 49 per cent.


Other examples of violence were reported including body slamming, headbutting, sexually inappropriate behaviour, throttling or choking actions, and stabbing with sharp objects/toys Several staff said they had to get medical treatment, particularly after bites.


Members shared details of their experiences including


· Daily attacks from pupils leaving scars on arms and legs.

· Being bitten on the breast causing severe tissue damage and requiring regular mammograms

· Sometimes multiple staff are needed to help get you out of the pupil’s grip or to safely remove the pupil.

· I feel inclusion is an excuse to put children with severe behaviour problems into mainstream schools because it is a cheaper option. I see my colleagues and children being assaulted on a daily basis.

· When we broached the subject re amount of violence we were putting up with management suggested that if we can’t handle it any longer we could ask for a transfer


Comments included


· “We don’t get paid enough for all this!”

· “I feel that violence towards teaching staff is taken more seriously than violence towards support staff”.

· “PLEASE HELP US. This is not what we signed up for”.

· “As part of the job I’ve regularly been hit, bitten, scratched, nipped, screamed at, had things thrown at me, hair pulled, glasses knocked off etc. Unfortunately, because we are learning assistants, it’s almost looked at as an accepted part of our job”

· “It is now accepted as ‘normal’ behaviour. This has to stop. No one should go to work to be hurt or abused.”


Some 49 per cent said they did not feel their employer took violence at work complaints seriously and many reported they hadn’t felt supported by management. Out of 278 who reported incidents, 57 per cent reported their employer did not provide feedback. Some 57 who responded had to take time off work because of violence or aggression at work but 54 per cent of them, some 31 employees, did not feel safe and supported to return to work.


Unsurprisingly, the majority, over 90 per cent, of respondents were women. Over one in five, 22 per cent of respondents, were on non-permanent contracts working on a casual, fixed term or temporary basis.


The survey was open to members and non-members. 85 per cent were UNISON members. Of those who responded, 26 expressed an interest in becoming UNISON stewards and/or Health and Safety representatives and these will all be followed up.


“The number of incidences of violence at work and the type of incidents staff have shared in the survey responses is sadly not surprising but is extremely concerning. The council need to recognise the extent of the problem and the fact that it even affects pre-school children,” said Karen Korus, UNISON health and safety officer. “These figures would be even higher if staff were aware that shouting, swearing and other forms of verbal abuse also constitute violence at work under health and safety law.
“It is clear that support staff in education are aware violence at work is wrong and should not be tolerated but it is concerning that so many do not feel supported after reporting an incident or returning to work after an absence following a violence at work incident. It is also extremely worrying that so many staff do not feel that the council takes violence at work complaints seriously.
“Dumfries and Galloway Council need to ensure that proper support is in place for staff suffering violence at work at all schools, nurseries and education centres and that it is provided consistently.”

Dumfries and Galloway Council’s booklet “Supporting staff and adults in our schools” which was recommended by the health and safety committee is to be welcomed but the council has to ensure headteachers and centre managers read and follow the booklet’s guidance and ensure it is not ignored.


Karen Korus, a member of the committee which advised on the booklet’s content, said this included advising on different ways of supporting staff and turning around the debrief from what could amount to a blame culture to ensure staff who faced violence at work had a chance to take time out to recover then have the debrief. They also removed the phrase “What could you have done differently” and replaced it with “where possible what would you like to see happen to avoid this situation occurring again”.
Karen added “This simple change of words now opens a completely different dialogue with staff.”