Children with special educational needs (SEN) are not getting the support they need because classroom and teaching assistants are being overwhelmed by behavioural issues according to a survey carried out by the public service union UNISON
More than half of classroom or teaching assistants (53%) across the UK who took part in the survey said they had experienced physical violence at school in the past year while three-quarters (76%) said they had witnessed violence at their school over the same period.
One respondent commented, ‘Issues with behaviour have seriously increased – teaching assistants are covering classes, but are not given enough support. Behaviour support workers are overloaded with cases that means “minor” special educational needs such as dyslexia are not being addressed. Concerns about child protection and disruptive/violent behaviour are taking priority, and there is limited outside support available to help with these issues.’
The report, Bad Form: Behaviour in Schools, shows that overall almost one-fifth (20%) of educational support staff (school business managers, technicians, librarians, administrative workers, caretakers, cleaners and catering staff) had experienced violence.
Teaching assistants bear the brunt of violent behaviour, according to the findings, and face a barrage of verbal threats and abuse. The overwhelming majority of incidents involving violence and abuse came from pupils, but a number were from parents.
The union says that worsening behaviour in schools is a direct result of cuts in staff and resources. Dealing with difficult behaviour in the classroom, it argues, is causing major disruption, dominating the school day and undermining the learning of other pupils.
Schools are being placed under huge pressure to deliver higher grades and better Ofsted reports, whilst facing real terms funding cuts, it adds. The survey suggests the pressure on staff to deliver this while jobs are cut and workload increased is having a terrible impact on staff motivation.
Commenting on the findings, UNISON’s head of education Jon Richards said:
This paints a grim picture of the way cuts and a general lack of cash are having a huge effect on school support staff.
Lessons couldn’t go ahead without teaching assistants and staff should not have to put up with violence and abuse in the classroom. These are not just occasional incidents. Abuse is becoming a regular and alarming occurrence with more than half of teaching assistants coming across violent behaviour in the classroom, the playground or at the school gates.
A lack of resources means schools are unable to address behavioural issues. Dealing with these problems can dominate the day when time could be better spent supporting children’s learning.
Of those teaching assistants who had faced violence, the overwhelming majority (98%) said this had come from pupils. One in 20 (5%) had additionally experienced violence from parents.
The report also found more than half of teaching assistants (53%) had received verbal threats. Of these, more than eight out of ten (85%) had faced threats from pupils, and a quarter (26%) from parents.
Six in ten (60%) teaching assistants who took part in the survey said they had experienced verbal abuse – almost four-fifths (79%) from pupils, and nearly a third (31%) from parents.
In England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland schools are required by law to have a behaviour policy, that promotes good behaviour and prevents bullying, and which has to be given to staff, parents and pupils annually.
Worryingly, the UNISON survey found nearly one in five respondents (19%) said their school did not have an adequate behaviour management policy. A further 15% said they did not know about the policy – suggesting that if there is one in place, the school is not doing enough to publicise it.
Across the UK, school support staff said their school either did not provide adequate training to address behavioural problems (27%) or had never offered such training (24%). Cuts in staff who deal with behaviour management were reported by a tenth of those surveyed (11%) over the past year, either through redundancies or posts being left vacant when someone leaves.
UNISON says it would like to see school governors and head teachers do more to manage the behaviour of unruly and disruptive pupils to minimise the impact in the classroom, and provide full support to staff encountering violence.
The union also wants more to be done to make clear to parents that unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated and for schools to ensure their behaviour policies are up to date and rigorously enforced.
The UNISON survey was conducted during a four-week period in March and April 2016, with 14,514 responses.