Teachers vote to exclude violent pupils

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The Independent Online

Teachers' leaders are balloting on industrial action in at least one new school every week to protect staff from disruptive and violent pupils.

Chris Keates, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), disclosed the union had sanctioned action against 46 unruly children in 40 schools in the past year. In almost all cases, the pupils concerned had been recommended for exclusion by the headteacher, but ordered back into the classroom either by school governors or a local authority appeals panel.

Cases range from shooting a teacher with a ball-bearing gun to assaults, verbal abuse and constant malicious allegations against staff of physical or sexual abuse. However, in other cases, pupils have uploaded images of female staff on to a website and transposed their heads on to the naked bodies of models. In another, a pupil threatened to rape his female teacher.

The NASUWT figure is likely to represent the tip of the iceberg as both the other TUC-affiliated teaching unions - the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the National Union of Teachers - back similar action. In the case of the ATL, the most moderate of the teachers' unions, it has sanctioned ballots in a further nine cases. A vote for industrial action results in a boycott of any class that includes the pupil concerned.

Most of the cases stem from constant verbal aggression by pupils towards teachers, including chanting and name-calling. A survey by the union showed that, in an average school, at least one member of staff suffered verbal abuse from a pupil once every seven minutes.

Exclusion figures are rising again after a dramatic reduction during Labour's first few years in government. In 2002, 9,536 pupils were permanently excluded from school, compared with 9,135 the previous year. The rise is a result of a U-turn by the Government, which had previously demanded a 33 per cent reduction in the rate but found this led to complaints from teachers that unruly youngsters were being kept in class.

Teachers' leaders had thought they had conquered the problem of disruptive pupils being ordered back into the classroom when the Government curbed the powers of exclusion appeals panels. Figures show the number of pupils reinstated on appeal has dropped from 317 to 259 in the past two years.

However, teachers now suspect that local authorities are putting pressure on governors to keep pupils in schools to avoid having to provide costly places in pupil referral units.

Three years ago, the majority of the 32 cases dealt with by the union stemmed from appeals panels sending youngsters back into school. In the first half of this term, four of the eight cases dealt with by the NASUWT involved governors refusing to accept the head's decision to exclude a pupil.

Ms Keates said: "There is now a recognition by all teachers' associations, unions, employers and government that teachers can't teach and pupils can't learn in chaos and disruption. The majority of schools are still relative havens of safety and calm. However, a significant minority of pupils interrupt the education of the majority."