5,000 Violent Pupils Excluded From Schools

The violent nature of society has led to a “deplorable” increase in attacks on Welsh teachers and pupils, teaching unions warned yesterday. The claim came as figures revealed nearly 5,000 Welsh pupils were excluded from schools in this country in the past academic year for violent offences.

Fears were expressed last night that the epidemic of violence could see teachers turn their back on the profession in favour of lower risk jobs. Figures released yesterday by the Assembly Government reveal that more than 20,000 pupils were excluded from Welsh primary and secondary schools in 2005/06, of whom nearly a quarter were punished for violent behaviour towards staff and classmates.

Of those, nearly 1,000 were banned from attending for assaults on members of staff, and more than 3,500 for acts of violence against fellow pupils. Almost 2,000 were excluded for dangerous or threatening behaviour, while around 130 were given the punishment for the possession or use of a weapon.

NUT Cymru spokesman Rhys Williams said violence in schools was a major reason behind a struggle to recruit teachers. “Our members tell us that one of the biggest disincentives to staying in teaching are concerns about pupil behaviour and as a society we have to tackle that,” he said.

“Our members are also concerned with lower level indiscipline, which can adversely affect lessons. God forbid that we cover these things up. We tell teachers that if there are problems with violent behaviour, it’s not a sign of weakness on their part.”

Exclusions can range from being barred for a single day to a permanent ban from attending a particular school. Temporary exclusions from schools have more than doubled since the turn of the century, rising from under 7,000 in 1999/2000 to the current figure of 17,799. The rise is attributed to a greater willingness by schools to deal with bad behaviour through short-term bans rather than detentions or other punishments.

Mr Williams said he was relaxed about the rise, claiming that it indicated that the problem of violence was being dealt with suitably. “Although we are concerned at the very high levels, they send a clear sign that any violence in schools is completely unacceptable,” he added. “Exclusion is the ultimate sanction and we think that if this sends a sign that any sort of violence is unacceptable and will be responded to with the ultimate sanction that schools have, then we would applaud that.

“Naturally we would like to see a lower level, because it would mean lower levels of violence in schools. But we would not want to see spin come into it or to see the figures massaged to paint a different picture. In order to tackle a problem effectively, we must be aware of the size of it so we can be in a position to deal with it.

“Despite this, I still believe schools are an oasis of calm, but we know that society as a whole is troubled by violence. Schools probably deal more effectively with violence than society as a whole does, but it’s a reflection on society rather than schools that it exists in the first place. Schools do a very good job in very difficult circumstances.”

Dr Phil Dixon, director of Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, said, “The figures are disturbing. There’s a definite crisis about this and we need to look at it again. I think that sometimes we expect schools and teachers to enforce levels of discipline that we do not enforce in the rest of society. Politicians and enforcement agencies, not just the police, have to give out the message that violence will never, ever be tolerated.”

On knives in schools, he said, “We have a change to reduce it, but we need to act now, before we start to get the kind of things that happen in London and other English cities. It is on its way here unless we make sure that it doesn’t.”

Geraint Davies, of NASUWT Cymru, echoed the demands that schools must be seen to be dealing firmly with violent behaviour. “Whilst we are concerned with the magnitude of the number of attacks on pupils and staff, unfortunately violence in society seems to be on the increase and it’s certainly on the increase in schools in Wales,” he said.

“What is encouraging, however, is that schools are prepared to take the strongest possible measures against such behaviour. I have always been of the opinion that schools should adopt a zero tolerance policy towards violent behaviour. Pupils need to understand that if they resort to violence, there will only be one conclusion. I deplore the increase in violent behaviour, but I welcome the fact that schools are not prepared to tolerate this type of behaviour.”