Fifty children aged five to 11 are sent home on average each day because they have assaulted an adult. That’s 11,420 suspensions for physical assault against an adult in English state-funded primary schools in the year 2013/14, according to the Department for Education, while 240 pupils received permanent exclusions for physically assaulting adults. This is up from 9,000 suspensions and 210 exclusions the previous year, after a downward trend for ten years. At senior school level, 7,550 pupils from secondary and special schools were suspended for the same reason.
And you’re not safe if you are a pupil: across the age levels, 51,240 pupils were suspended for assault against another student. Fifty-one thousand. That doesn’t include the thousands more pupils who were suspended for verbal and racial abuse, sexual misconduct and persistent disruptive behaviour.
The Government says more pupils are being excluded because it’s given greater powers to head teachers to deal with problem cases and improve discipline. But when you see these figures for the number of physical assaults against teachers, by even quite young children, you can’t help but draw in a breath at the scale of the problem.
As Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT union, says: ‘The increase in the number of pupils suspended [for this reason] is extremely worrying. There is no good news story here. Teachers and other staff are facing the trauma of serious disruption and violence.’
Meanwhile, she adds, ‘Children and young people [who are excluded] are losing their place in mainstream schools and are being placed in a system where specialist staff and provision to meet their needs has been removed or reduced as a result of funding cuts.’
What is society doing wrong?
There’ll always be the bad boys and girls (mostly boys, who are three times more likely to be excluded). But why is the problem so great? What is our society failing to provide for these children – and their parents? The sad fact is that children on free school meals are four times more likely to be excluded compared with their better-off peers; in other words, children from educationally and financially disadvantaged backgrounds are coming in to school without the personal skills to control their impulses and for whom violence is a first resort.
Leaders of the teaching unions are asking for deeper analysis of why violence is increasing. Some point to the narrowing of the school curriculum, the reduction in creative subjects and the removal of some play times for primary pupils as possible reasons for bad behaviour in schools – those with lower academic attainment do not perhaps have the outlets for their talents any longer and are becoming frustrated and difficult.
But a disaffection with education and with the politicians who ultimately control it doesn’t help. If your region is rife with unemployment, as a parent you may see no point in school if it appears only to be a dead end. That kind of disengagement can only lead to an escalation of poor behaviour. I put forward no solutions, it’s a complex issue, but I only ask that the calls for analysis of the problem – and for effective action as a result – are heard.