Classroom attacks left 44 staff in hospital last year

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The Independent Online

The number of teachers in England taken to hospital after being assaulted at school is at its highest level for five years. Government figures show that 44 school staff were so badly injured they needed an ambulance – up from 29 the previous year. In the past decade, nearly 300 school staff have suffered injuries serious enough to warrant hospitalisation.

The figures, given by the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, in a Parliamentary answer, coincide with moves by the Coalition Government to tighten up school discipline and behaviour. They show that during the past year a further 207 teachers were assaulted and needed more than three days off school to recuperate as a result.

In all 2,126 teachers have been violently injured at school in the past 10 years. A total of 17,120 pupils were suspended from school for assaulting an adult in 2008/09, the last year for which figures are available.

Ministers plan to give teachers new powers to search pupils and confiscate items from them. They also hope to introduce legislation aimed at defining what constitutes "reasonable force" in breaking up fights between pupils.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is worried that too many schools are operating a "no touch" approach towards pupils for fear that teachers could face legal action if they intervene. "We want them to feel confident to restrain disruptive pupils," he said.

A Government white paper due to be published next week will scrap independent appeals panel hearings into school exclusions. As a result, any decision to expel a pupil by a headteacher or governing body will be final.

A survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers had shown that 38 per cent of its members had dealt with physical aggression in the classroom, with 7.6 per cent saying they had suffered physical harm.

Mary Bousted, the union's general secretary, said: "Every year some staff suffer violence from pupils and some are so severely affected they can't continue working in schools. Schools need to be safe places where pupils and staff alike feel safe from harm."

However, teachers' unions are against the plan to dismantle the independent appeals system. Headteachers argue that it will leave pupils and their parents with no option but to pursue legal action if they want a decision overturned.

Mr Gove is also planning to allow more classroom observation of teachers to improve their performance. A law limiting observation to three hours a year will be scrapped. "I would like to change the culture so that it is more routine and normal for teachers to be observing and learning from each other," he said.