Teachers call for law to curb classroom violence

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The Independent Online

Teachers have called for new powers to identify potentially violent pupils and a new offence of attacking a public service worker to be created.

Members of the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers demanded the measures to improve school safety at their conferences yesterday.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the NASUWT, called for legislation to punish those who assaulted teachers, nurses and other public service workers. He said police were reluctant at present to deal with assaults that did not involve serious injury. "Common assault upon a teacher is not regarded as any great thing in the great scheme of things by many police forces around the country," he told the union's conference in Scarborough.

"There is a very strong case that there should be a new offence created not just in relation to teachers but also in relation to nurses and a number other public-sector workers."

Stephen Timms, the Schools minister, said: "I do not think we are at the stage yet of needing new legislation. There are a number of provisions in existence which do not seem to be as well used as they could be."

Meanwhile, delegates at the National Union of Teachers' conference in Bournemouth called for headteachers to be given the right to have pupils screened for behaviour disorders before they are admitted to school.

A motion agreed by members yesterday would allow schools to refuse to admit pupils with disorders if local education authorities failed to come up with extra funding to support them in the classroom.

Disability rights campaigners said the move would give headteachers in effect a veto on admitting any pupil with behaviour problems or disabilities.

The NUT will seek an amendment to education legislation currently before Parliament that would grant headteachers the right to refer any child for psychological assessment from September.

Union leaders said the right, which would apply to both primary and secondary school headteachers, would be most likely to be used if schools were asked to accept pupils excluded from other schools.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the NUT, said: "We are mainly talking about pupils with severe emotional or behavioural difficulties or those who have been permanently excluded and are looking for another school.

"This is not opening the door for heads to refuse to admit pupils. However, if an authority is not coming forward with the necessary support then I do think the teacher has the right to say, 'I'm sorry, on all sorts of grounds, I can't have this child.'

"We can't carry on with local education authorities ducking out of their responsibilities in terms of providing a range of help.''

Government guidelines say statements of support for pupils should be completed within six months. However in practice, they can take up to two years.

Teachers have claimed throughout the Easter union conference season that violence in the classroom is on the increase.

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