Investigation reveals shocking violence suffered by area school support staff

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

UNISON Dumfries and Galloway branch carried out a survey of all education support staff to determine the impact of violence in schools on them. More than 400 responses from staff at more than 100 schools, nurseries and education centers across Dumfries and Galloway were received, painting a harrowing picture of the scale of the problem.

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

When asked about the types of violent behavior they experienced, 92 percent said they heard screaming and 89 percent heard cursing. However, more than 80 percent do not consider it violent behavior. This is despite the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defining work-related violence as “any incident in which a person is mistreated, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work”. This definition includes verbal abuse or threats, including face-to-face, online and telephone abuse, as well as physical attacks.

Kicks were felt by 80 percent. The number of people who were thrown or pushed was 79 percent. Slaps and punches were experienced by 76 percent. Biting, spitting and biting were experienced by 62, 61 and 57 percent respectively, scratches and cuts by 53 percent and hair pulling by 49 percent.

Other reported instances of violence included body blows, head butts, sexually inappropriate behavior, strangulation or choking actions, and stabbing with sharp objects/toys. Several staff members reported requiring medical attention, particularly after bites.

Members shared details of their experiences, including

· Daily attacks on students leaving scars on their arms and legs.

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

· Sometimes, multiple staff members are needed to help you free yourself from the student’s hold or safely remove the student.

· I think inclusion is an excuse to enroll children with serious behavioral problems in mainstream schools because it is a cheaper option. I see my colleagues and my children being attacked every day.

· When we brought up the subject of the violence we were enduring, management suggested that if we could no longer handle it, we could request a transfer.

Comments included

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

· “I have the impression that violence against teaching staff is taken more seriously than violence against support staff.”

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

· “In the course of my work, I have regularly been hit, bitten, scratched, bitten, shouted at, had objects thrown at me, had my hair pulled, had my glasses ripped off, etc. . Unfortunately, as we are learning assistants, it is almost considered an accepted part of our job”

· “It’s now accepted as “normal” behavior. This must stop. No one should go to work to be injured or mistreated.

Some 49 percent said they did not feel their employer took workplace violence complaints seriously and many said they did not feel supported by management. Of 278 people who reported incidents, 57 percent said their employer did not provide feedback. Some 57 respondents had to miss work due to violence or assault at work, but 54 per cent of them, or around 31 employees, did not feel safe or supported to return to work .

Not surprisingly, the majority, more than 90 percent, of those surveyed were women. More than one in five respondents, or 22 percent, had a non-permanent contract and worked on a casual, fixed-term or temporary basis.

The survey was open to members and non-members. 85 percent were members of UNISON. Of those who responded, 26 expressed an interest in becoming UNISON shop stewards and/or health and safety representatives and these requests will all be followed up.

“The number of incidents of workplace violence and the type of incidents mentioned by staff in the survey responses are unfortunately not surprising, but they are extremely concerning. The council must recognize the scale of the problem and the fact that it affects even pre-school children,” said Karen Korus, UNISON health and safety manager. “These figures would be even higher if staff were aware that shouting, swearing and other forms of verbal abuse also constitute workplace violence under the Health and Safety Act.
“It is clear that education support staff are aware that workplace violence is unacceptable and should not be tolerated, but it is concerning that so many people do not feel supported after reporting incident or after returning to work after an absence following an incident of workplace violence. It is also extremely concerning that so many employees feel that the council does not take complaints of workplace violence seriously.
“Dumfries and Galloway Council must ensure that appropriate support is in place for staff experiencing workplace violence in all schools, nurseries and education centers and that it is provided consistently.

Dumfries and Galloway Council’s booklet ‘Supporting staff and adults in our schools’, recommended by the health and safety committee, is to be welcomed, but the council must ensure that headteachers and Center directors read and follow the advice in the booklet and ensure that it is not ignored.

Karen Korus, a committee member who advised on the content of the leaflet, said this involved advising on different ways to support staff and work around debriefing what might amount to a culture blame to ensure that staff experiencing workplace violence have a chance to take time to recover and then debrief. They also removed the phrase “What could you have done differently” and replaced it with “if possible, what would you like to see happen to prevent this situation from happening again.”
Karen added: “This simple change of words now opens up a completely different dialogue with staff. »