Teachers: sue abusive pupils and parents

Union backs call by staff for offenders to be prosecuted in effort to stem rising tide of violence and intimidation
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The Independent Online

Teachers demanded yesterday that private prosecutions should be taken out against any parent or pupil assaulting school staff.

Teachers demanded yesterday that private prosecutions should be taken out against any parent or pupil assaulting school staff.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Cardiff warned that the union would act against both pupils and parents if local education authorities refused to do so.

The demand was made on the day that a teacher who was attacked by a teenager at a special school won £190,000 High Court damages. Judith Waugh, head of the lower school at John F Kennedy in Stratford, east London was attacked by the 14-year-old boy in 1998 and, although she only suffered minor facial injuries, she has been psychologically affected since and is receiving therapy

Delegates at the ATL conference accused schools and councils of too often failing to protect members against a growing tide of physical and verbal abuse that has seen assault claims increase rapidly during the past five years.

Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, supports the union's demand for tougher action on assaults. She is expected to tell the conference today: "Local education authorities should ensure that parents who attack teachers are prosecuted and that should include custodial sentences if the attack is serious enough. There is no excuse for attacking teachers. We will stop this but we have to work together to do this.''

She said last night that she would speak to the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department to make sure they put pressure on the Crown Prosecution Service to act on complaints of assaults against teachers.

The union is also demanding that warning signs be placed prominently in schools – similar to those on the London Underground and railway stations – telling would-be culprits: "If you are violent against our staff you won't get away with it; we will prosecute.''

Brian Waggett, from Range High School in Sefton, Merseyside, and chairman of the union's defence committee for teachers, said: "Teachers are spat at, pushed, threatened with weapons, have equipment broken and are called vile names such as 'slag', 'cow' and much, much worse.''

Delegates said schools too often refused to prosecute because they believed court action would damage their reputation. The CPS was also said to be reluctant to act.

Union figures show an increase in the number of reported assaults on teachers from 34 in 1998 to 120 last year.

The union is already considering a test case supporting one of its members in a private prosecution against a parent in London who attacked a teacher at a bus stop after his child was put in detention.

In a separate initiative, delegates voted unanimously in support of industrial action over the need to reduce teachers' workload. The association is the first of the teaching unions to vote on an identically worded motion warning of action in schools if the Government fails fully to fund a package to modernise the profession.

Hank Roberts, from Copeland School in Brent, north-west London, said: "This year it should be a declaration of war – war against having untrained, unqualified teachers in front of our children."

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