Councils face huge bills for attacks on teachers

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The Independent Online

Local authorities are facing compensation claims running into millions of pounds for violent and disruptive pupils who assault teachers and their classmates.

Local authorities are facing compensation claims running into millions of pounds for violent and disruptive pupils who assault teachers and their classmates.

Lawyers for one teaching union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), are pressing ahead with cases for 13 teachers, worth about £1.5m.

Unions have warned of an increase in litigation from teachers, and legal action from parents of victims, as more people use health and safety legislation to pursue negligence claims against local councils.

In one case being examined by ATL lawyers, a secondary school teacher had to barricade herself in a cupboard after being assaulted and chased round her school by a pupil.

Delegates at the ATL's annual conference in Belfast warned that the Government's drive to cut the number of pupils being expelled was increasing problems for staff by removing the teachers' ultimate sanction against badly behaved children.

They called for a national insurance scheme to pay compensation to victims of assaults in schools, and appealed to teachers to report cases of violence to help with future negligence cases.

Martin Pilkington, the union's head of legal and member services, predicted an increase in negligence cases.

Legislation for health and safety at work says employers have a duty of care to employees and can be held liable if staff are injured in foreseeable circumstances. Mr Pilkington said: "If the teacher is physically injured we can commence proceedings for negligence against the employer [the local authority]." He said the incidence was "almost certain to increase" and that parents of child victims could take legal action in the same way.

The conference was told that teachers were finding it increasingly hard to deal with disruptive pupils. A survey of 31 local authority representatives found children posed more problems and were more defiant of authority since 1998, when the Government introduced targets for cutting expulsions by one-third by 2002. Some 12,000 pupils were expelled last year.

Ralph Surman, a member of the union's national executive, told of how children in a Nottingham school had broken through the ceiling in one classroom and poured hot tar on to pupils in a classroom below. In another case, he said, teachers had to lock the classroom doors to stop unruly pupils barging into lessons.

Jennifer Bangs, the union's president, said: "In the last few months we have had a steady trickle of industrial action ballots where our members, trying to teach or to contain disruptive and often violent pupils, clearly feel they have run out of options and reached the end of their tether."

She warned: "Success masks all the hour-upon-hour energy-draining, confidence-sapping work that goes into containing and maintaining youngsters whose behaviour is persistently anti-social - and that's on a good day."

David Bye, a teacher at Turnford School in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, said it had become acceptable for disruptive pupils to stay within school communities. "They can bully, steal and be violent and abusive towards fellow pupils and teachers. We are asked to fight a battle for improved discipline and standards with both hands tied behind our backs."

The largest teaching union won leave yesterday to launch a court action against the Government's proposals for introducing performance-related pay into schools. The National Union of Teachers wants a judicial review of a change to teachers' contracts requiring them to help heads assess the work of colleagues. The union claims teachers will be forced to spy on their colleagues' work.

Teachers must pass a performance-related threshold, based on their experience, training, classroom performance and pupils' exam results, to secure a £2,000 pay rise and access to new pay scales up to £35,000 a year.After the court ruling Doug McAvoy, the NUT general secretary, said: "The dictatorial attitude of the Government demonstrates the extent to which it has lost touch with teachers."