Mrs Greed teaches RE. She has been abused and threatened, and had a knife and even a loaded gun pulled on her by unruly pupils

The case of the teacher raped by a pupil has prompted teachers like Elizabeth Greed to speak out against what she calls 'the disease of lack of respect' that has broken out in Britain's classrooms. Here 'IoS' Education Editor Richard Garner begins a major new series examining the state of our schools
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The Independent Online

Elizabeth Greed has spent more than three decades teaching religious education to children in rural Wiltshire, one of the most tranquil parts of the country. It ought to be a dream job.

Elizabeth Greed has spent more than three decades teaching religious education to children in rural Wiltshire, one of the most tranquil parts of the country. It ought to be a dream job.

But she knew that things had changed for the worse when a violent drugs row spilled over into school, and she found herself facing an angry teenager and a Colt .45. Loaded.

It was, she says, an astonishing new low point in a job already damaged by the rising tide of violence, abuse and plain unruliness that affects thousands of schools, pupils and their teachers around the country.

The Independent on Sunday reveals shocking new figures showing that the number of physical assaults on teachers has more doubled in a year. The past seven days alone have seen a catalogue of incidents (see below), including the horrifying admission that a 15-year-old pupil has attacked and raped a teacher in a London comprehensive.

Classroom violence emerged as an election issue, and last week Tony Blair reacted to the public disquiet by promising "a proper sense of respect" in schools and the wider community.

We have agreed not to name the comprehensive where Mrs Greed, aged 57, works. It is located in a desirable area. Yet swearing and illegal drugs are commonplace among the pupils, who routinely refuse to do as they are asked. She has been threatened with a knife.

The worst came when a pupil brought a loaded Colt .45 through the gates, determined to "sort out" the major drug supplier in the corridors. "I just said to him I'll have that, thank you very much," she recalls and, fortunately, the stunned teenager handed it over.

"You can no longer concentrate on your main purpose of teaching," she says. "In the present generation, there are an awful lot of parents who don't respect teachers. A significant number have less respect for teachers than my generation or my parents' generation. Yet we, too, have human rights - the right to dignity and respect and not to be subjected to abuse at home or in school. A significant number of teachers have had their careers affected and sometimes ruined.

"It's a social disease. It's not just schools. It's a disease of a lack of respect. And that goes into every organisation and every institution."

She believes the time has come for schools to follow hospitals and railway stations in putting signs up saying that abuse of staff will not be tolerated.

Drugs are a major issue too, and not just the "wacky baccy" they can smell on the breath of the teenagers in class. Some, for example, have been experimenting with the horse tranquilliser ketamine - a powerful anaesthetic that can induce feelings of euphoria. Drugs experts say it has been used in clubs and at raves since the 1990s as an alternative to ecstasy. According to Mrs Greed, pupils who took ketamine at weekends were "out of it" when they returned to school. "The general feeling is not to expect this type of child to be co-operative on Mondays or Tuesdays," she says.

The Victim Support charity is so concerned about violence towards teachers that it is offering special courses of training to local education authorities. Recent high-profile cases have included those of Anthony and Susan Bell, teachers from Bedfordshire, who told how they were persecuted and assaulted by gangs of pupils outside their home for more than a year. The attacks began after Mrs Bell, 44, an English teacher, disciplined two pupils while she was on bus duty.

Amy Blackburn, head of geography at Islington Green school in north London, said she was forced to leave her job after feeling she was in "physical danger" on a daily basis. Mrs Blackburn said that she was attacked on two occasions while pregnant, and believes that an assault by a pupil led to her suffering a miscarriage.

School authorities insist that that they are mostly peaceful places, despite the growing violence. But complaints over bullying are increasing, and there is no escaping the tide of constant classroom disruption of the sort featured in Roger Graef's recent fly-on-the-wall exposé, Classroom Chaos. An experienced teacher from one of the schools featured in the Five programme told The Independent on Sunday yesterday that a new generation of pupils refuses to stay quiet or sit still. During her 30-year career she had had no problems keeping order, but she now finds - for the first time - that some classes are on the verge of being unteachable.

A survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers union suggests that 72 per cent of secondary school teachers are thinking of quitting because of the constant disruption. They are not the only ones unhappy at the situation. Many parents are also at their wits' end, complaining that the atmosphere prevents their children from learning, and that their protests are ignored.

Another senior teacher at a comprehensive in the south-east of England has contacted the IoS with a log book of incidents from just five days at the end of April at her school, an ordinary urban comprehensive with 700 pupils. There were nearly 50. In one, a child rode his bike down the corridors. In another, three pupils in year eight - 12- and 13-year-olds - ran amok, refusing to obey orders and return to their classroom. It took nine members of staff a total of nine man-hours to round them up and send them home - nine hours that were therefore effectively lost to teaching. Two members of staff had their car tyres let down; one had eggs thrown at the car. Others are just listed as "extreme behaviour", "failure to follow instructions" and the ubiquitous "disruptive behaviour".

According to the local branch secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, who teaches at the school, they represent only a small proportion of what the teachers there have to put up with. Staff members who are constantly being abused are having to pick themselves up at the end of each lesson and physically prepare themselves to go back into something that might turn out to be very similar.

"No wonder they don't have time or don't bother to make a log of everything that happens. There seems to be an increase in cases with a sexual nature to them. Sometimes this can be homophobic. There can also be oral gestures, which are particularly unpleasant if you happen to be an elderly female member of staff.

"Ruth Kelly has said she wants 'zero tolerance' of bad behaviour in schools. If we had 'zero tolerance' of incidents, all these kids would be out of school excluded for three or four days and that wouldn't be the answer. Sanctions have to be realistic. Even really good schools are now excluding 45 pupils a year.

"One thing is certain. If the teachers behaved towards the children as the children behave towards them, you wouldn't have any teachers. They'd all be up on disciplinary charges."

Additional reporting by Sarah Cassidy

Have you or your children suffered violence and indiscipline at school? Or are you a teacher whose classes are disrupted? 'The IoS' would like to hear about it. Inside Britain's Schools can be reached at insideschools@independent.co.uk, or by post at Inside Britain's Schools, Home News Desk, 'The Independent on Sunday', 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS

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