School staff face ‘daily abuse’ from pupils, union warns

A new survey by Unison has revealed that school support staff in Scotland experience high levels of verbal and physical abuse from pupils on a regular basis.

Unison survey findings

The survey, which was conducted in October and November 2023, received responses from over 2,000 school support staff, including classroom assistants, technicians, librarians, janitors, and catering staff.

According to the survey, more than half (56%) of the respondents said they had experienced verbal abuse from pupils in the past year, while one in five (20%) said they had been physically assaulted.

The survey also found that only 38% of the respondents felt that their employer took the issue of abuse seriously, and only 28% said they had received adequate training on how to deal with challenging behaviour.

Some of the comments from the respondents included:

  • “I have been spat at, kicked, punched, bitten, scratched, had chairs thrown at me, been verbally abused and threatened.”
  • “I have been called every name under the sun, had things thrown at me, been pushed and shoved.”
  • “I have been assaulted on numerous occasions and have permanent injuries as a result.”

Unison calls for action

Unison, which represents over 70,000 school support staff in Scotland, has called for urgent action from the Scottish Government and local authorities to address the problem of abuse and violence in schools.

School staff face ‘daily abuse’ from pupils, union warns

The union has demanded that:

  • All school staff should receive appropriate training on how to deal with challenging behaviour and de-escalate situations.
  • All incidents of abuse and violence should be recorded and reported, and staff should receive proper support and counselling if needed.
  • All schools should have clear policies and procedures on how to deal with abusive and violent behaviour, and staff should be involved in developing and reviewing them.
  • All schools should have adequate staffing levels and resources to ensure a safe and supportive learning environment for pupils and staff.

Unison Scotland education committee chair Lorraine Thomson said:

“School support staff are vital to the education of our children and young people, but they are facing unacceptable levels of abuse and violence on a daily basis.

“This is not only damaging to their health and wellbeing, but also to the quality of education and the ethos of our schools.

“We need urgent action from the Scottish Government and local authorities to ensure that all school staff are respected, protected, and valued.

“We need a zero-tolerance approach to abuse and violence in schools, and we need to invest in the training, support, and resources that school staff need to do their jobs safely and effectively.”

Scottish Government response

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:

“We recognise the valuable contribution that school support staff make to the education of our children and young people, and we condemn any form of abuse or violence against them.

“We have provided guidance and funding to local authorities and schools to support the health and safety of staff and pupils, and we expect them to take appropriate action to prevent and address any incidents of abuse or violence.

“We have also invested in initiatives to promote positive behaviour and relationships in schools, such as the Scottish Attainment Challenge, the Pupil Equity Fund, and the National Trauma Training Programme.

“We will continue to work with Unison and other stakeholders to ensure that all school staff are treated with respect and dignity, and that our schools are safe and supportive places for everyone.”

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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