Just one in 40 violent children is expelled
04/05/2007 The Irish News
Just one in every 40 pupils who violently attacked their teachers have been expelled, new figures reveal.
Hundreds of teachers are being punched, kicked and bitten by unruly children each year but very few assaults lead to permanent exclusion.
Almost every child disciplined in the past few years for lashing out at school staff has been allowed to return to class.
Teachers say a firmer line must be taken, claiming the situation is more serious than official statistics suggest because many attacks are not recorded properly.
Unions are already discussing with health and safety experts ways to ensure appropriate action is taken against the perpetrators.
The most recent figures released by NIO education minister Maria Eagle - for the 2004/05 academic year - reveal that 262 assaults on staff resulted in a pupil being suspended. Just seven of these off-ences led to a child being ex-pelled, however.
While these attacks are happening at every level - nursery, primary and secondary - primary school children are said to be the most likely to physically assault teachers and classroom assistants.
At post-primary level, teachers say instances of verbal abuse and threats far outweigh physical risk.
Most violent attacks are happening in Belfast schools, the statistics, revealed in response to a parliamentary question by new Stormont education committee chairman Sammy Wilson, show.
Almost one in every three suspensions was handed out to pupils in the city.
Staff at government-funded schools are permitted by law to use "reasonable force" against any pupil to prevent them causing injury to any person.
Teachers want greater protection, however, and new procedures to stop what they describe as a "worrying increase".
They are further concerned that bullying by mobile phone, email or internet chatrooms is on the rise - many teachers are receiving silent calls and emails designed to upset or enrage them.
Unions add that there is nothing in schools' suspensions and expulsions policies that states that offenders who are suspended repeatedly must be excluded.
Mary Cahillane, chair of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, said many schools were reluctant to exclude violent children.
"It is very hard to expel a pupil. The onus is on the school to find the pupil another place and if that pupil goes, funding goes with them," she said.
"The attacks are more prevalent in key stage one (P1-P4) where younger and younger pupils are becoming more violent - punching, kicking and biting teachers and classroom assistants.
"It is making life very difficult for teachers. There are persistent offenders who can be suspended on numerous occasions and never expelled. You can be suspended ad-infinitum."