Staff in Highlands schools reveal surging tide of violence ahead of emergency talks
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Support staff have exposed a daily onslaught of physical violence and verbal abuse in Highland schools ahead of a crisis meeting.
Workers in nurseries and schools in the region have detailed a barrage of threats and assaults by pupils amid warnings of a nationwide epidemic of violence.
One support worker, who is receiving counselling following an 18-month ordeal of violence and abuse, says her GP believes she has post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
GMB Scotland is staging an emergency meeting in Inverness tomorrow to chart the surging violence endured by staff and call for concerted action to protect them.
A national survey by the trade union recently revealed one in six non-teaching staff, including janitors, caterers, admin staff, cleaners and classroom assistants, suffers violence on a daily basis while one in three are assaulted every week.
Meanwhile, half of all school workers suffer verbal abuse every week, according to the poll of GMB Scotland members, while 68 per cent say the crisis has worsened since the coronavirus pandemic.
Lesley-Anne MacAskill, GMB Scotland organiser in the Highlands, said the alarming level of violence revealed by the survey nationally is mirrored in the region’s nurseries and schools.
"Our members working in schools in the Highlands are enduring the same escalating violence and abuse being suffered by colleagues across the country," she said.
"No one should go to work expecting to be punched, kicked, bit, and spat on.
"No one should go to work expecting to suffer verbal abuse."
Miss MacAskill said an emergency meeting on violence in Highland schools is being held at Highland Rugby Club in Inverness to detail the scale of the crisis, give support staff expert advice on protecting themselves and to demand action to make schools safe.
She said most incidents were not even reported let alone investigated and said the authorities must act urgently to understand the scale of the emergency.
"Highland Council needs to know exactly what staff in nurseries and schools are being asked to endure on a daily basis and protect them," she said.
"There must be tailored training for staff in how to deal with incidents and far more rigorous reporting procedures with staff being encouraged and given the time to detail what has happened.
"If these incidents are not even being reported, they cannot be investigated and nothing will change.
"It is shocking so many staff are subject to this abuse on a daily basis but just as shocking that their managers are failing to properly record and investigate these incidents. It cannot go on.
"This is a national emergency and the authorities must take emergency action."
The GMB Scotland survey revealed 47 per cent of the support staff taking part did not believe managers took the issue of violence against workers seriously while 63 per cent had no training in defusing potentially violent situations.
It suggests two thirds of incidents are never recorded while three out of four say they receive no feedback if they do report an incident.
A third have suffered physical injury, one in five have had to take time off work because of violence while 40 per cent of victims needed medical assistance.
Some have been attacked by parents but 93 per cent have been targeted by pupils.
In response to the escalating crisis, the Scottish Government has staged two summits addressing the problem of rising violence in schools with the third, and last, taking place later this month when research is expected on the rise in incidents.
Education secretary Jenny Gilruth, who sent a recorded message to be played at tomorrow's meeting, has promised a new national action plan.
A Highland Council spokesperson said councils had a legal requirement to include pupils with needs in mainstream school settings with their peers.
"Where staff feel threatened or are harmed, we meet our duty of care with relevant review of protocol and planning around support requirements, including revisions to behaviour support planning," the spokesperson said.
"We record incidents via the pupil incident system and analyse this regularly for trends with staff advising managers and head teachers on interventions required."
The spokesperson said wellbeing policies and procedures were also available to support staff needs including support from an education psychology team.
Staff had to complete mandatory training along with refresh training including de-escalation training to avoid situations where pupils may become over anxious and unable to regulate their behaviour.
"There is also mandatory training on neurodevelopmental differences which equips staff with outline information on the needs of pupils who may have autism/attention deficit/communication needs," the spokesperson continued.
"Where risk is identified as being significant in relation to a pupil, ASN staff can be CALM trained which includes non-physical and physical interventions to de-escalate situations.
"We do not comment on individual staffing or pupil matters. We work regularly with unions on staffing concerns, however this matter has not been raised with the council prior to the GMB union meeting being called."