One of the largest teaching unions in the UK has released the results of a survey it conducted of 5000 teachers. It found that., over the last 12 months, 86% had been sworn at and 42% had been threatened. In terms of physical violence:
“Nearly a third (29%) of teachers have been hit, punched or kicked, and 39% have been shoved or barged. 7% have been spat at, and 3% have been head-butted. Over a quarter (27%) report having had their property damaged.”
More than 8 in 10 teachers said this affected their morale, as you can probably imagine that it would. More than half said they were made to feel to blame for behaviour issues, presumably by their school leadership, and nearly half said that physical and verbal abuse in their schools were expected as ‘part of the job’.
This is clearly a self-selecting group who were motivated to answer the survey, but 29% of 5000 is still an awful lot of teachers reporting being hit, punched or kicked.
Student behaviour is the Cinderella issue in education. Teachers may avoid mentioning it, particularly if they feel they will be blamed for it themselves. When they decide to leave the profession, they may instead focus on reasons involving workload or other sources of pressure. Yet, with the anonymity provided by a survey, they can tell it like it is.
From an Australian perspective, it is an interesting issue to contemplate given evidence from PISA suggests that, if anything, behaviour is even worse in Australian schools.
Student behaviour therefore should be the subject of urgent research by education academics. Unfortunately, the prevailing philosophy in education faculties is one in which children are always blameless and any and all misbehaviour is the communication of an unmet need. This therefore involves a certain amount of glossing over reality and is probably a reason why teachers tell me their training was so weak on the issue.
It is also interesting to contrast the work of the NASUWT with another UK union, the NEU. I was tempted to write ‘another UK teaching union’ but I have been corrected on Twitter by a member of its national executive – the NEU is the National Education Union and not a teaching union, apparently.
The NEU’s recent conference was an eccentric event and the organisation is looking increasingly like Momentum, the UK political pressure group notable for supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. This is the conference where Corbyn pledged to abolish SAT testing, with no clear plan put forward for an alternative. It is also the conference where delegates voted for a motion condemning supposedly ‘zero tolerance’ behaviour policies in schools.
Exactly what behaviour should teachers be tolerating and which union has their interests at heart?