Teachers demand action to stop attacks by pupils
Published 01/12/2010 | 05:00
It has become an occupational hazard for teachers. In some schools they face the threat of assault by pupils, and even parents.
Last week's attack on a primary principal in Limerick showed that this violence can even occur at primary level.
Geraldine Wallace, principal of St Mary's Boy School, suffered a broken nose after she was headbutted by a pupil.
The boy was suspended, and Ms Wallace was treated in hospital. Gardai were called in but they cannot prosecute the boy because he is under age.
The incident again highlights the threats faced by some teachers as they go about their work. Attacks in primary schools are much rarer than at second level, but there have been a number of violent incidents in recent years.
"Fortunately, this was an isolated incident,'' said Sean Cottrell, director of the Irish Primary Principals Network.
"Cases do arise from time to time.''
The IPPN director said recently there had been another incident where a parent hit a principal.
"The principal was floored with a fist by the parent and gardai were called. The school got a barring order stopping the parent going near the school.''
While cases such as the Limerick attack are disturbing and are bound to occur from time to time, Sean Cottrell said primary schools have become more adept at avoiding trouble in recent years.
"Behaviour management in schools has improved, and you would not see as much regular violence such as fist fighting between pupils in schools,'' said the IPPN director.
"There are more covert forms of bullying in schools that are coming to the fore, such as excluding other children, name calling, and using web sites such as Facebook to spread rumours.''
Joe Lyons, of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, also said the Limerick case was an isolated incident.
He said it highlighted the need to retain services such as special-needs assistants (SNA) in the education system.
"It just shows the real need to have resources. We hear in this upcoming Budget that there are talks about scrapping 2,000 SNA jobs," Mr Lyons said.
He added that SNAs "provide a back-up to children who may have emotional and behavioural difficulties.''
While teachers at second level have been pre-occupied with coping with cuts, discipline problems have not gone away and have, in some cases, become worse.
Disruptive behaviour in classrooms has become more regular as a result of the recession and education cutbacks according to the Teacher' Union of Ireland (TUI).
The impact of pay cuts and job losses on some families has led to increasingly difficult behaviour among students, says a union spokesperson.
For a time schools lost structures that were in place to tackle indiscipline because of a government embargo on filling middle management posts, but this has since been lifted.
In a behaviour and attitudes survey carried out on behalf of the TUI earlier this year, 81% of teachers said that dealing with discipline had increased their workload over the past five years.
An earlier shocking survey carried out by the TUI found that 20% of post-primary teachers had suffered threatening or intimidating behaviour in the previous seven days.
The experience of one second-level teacher in West Dublin was by no means exceptional.
The teacher, who did not wish to be named, told the Irish Independent his car had been vandalised, pupils had made throat-slitting gestures as he walked with his family around a shopping centre, and one student had even told him: "I will have you shot.''
A frequent gripe of teachers has been that the system is weighted in favour of perpetrators whose parents can appeal against expulsion and keep disruptive pupils in school.
In a case that gained national notoriety in 2006 a 14-year-old student, who threatened a teacher with a hammer, was allowed return to his school after successfully appealing his expulsion.
The boy in question, who attended a Munster school, had also stabbed a fellow pupil with a pen and been found in possession of knives on the school grounds.
This case and other violent incidents prompted the then Education Minister Mary Hanafin to amend legislation so that the needs of the school community are taken into account during expulsion appeals.
The National Behaviour Support Service (NBSS) was also set up in order to deal with disruptive and violent pupils, and currently operates in 62 schools across the country.
Gemma Tuffy, a spokeswoman for ASTI, said: "The support service has had some good initiatives, but it only covers certain schools. You cannot always predict where a violent incident will occur. The support service needs to cover more schools.''
According to Gemma Tuffy, recent cutbacks were bound to have an effect on discipline.
She said that the cuts reduced the amount of time teachers had available to spend on pastoral care.