Teacher 'raped by boy aged 13': Unions demand more protection in schools following attack

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TEACHERS' unions called for more protection for their members and tougher legal action against violent pupils yesterday following the alleged rape of a 27-year-old French teacher by a 13-year-old boy.

News of the attack last Friday at a school in Southwark, south-east London, was greeted with shock and revulsion but, according to union leaders, not surprise. They blamed the Government for failing to adopt recommendations contained in the 1989 report by Lord Elton into discipline in schools which they say would have improved teacher safety.

'This is exactly what we have been warning against for several years,' said Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT). 'The Government, the local education authority employers, governing bodies, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have not taken the problem of violence in schools seriously enough.'

The teacher was allegedly raped by the 13-year-old after keeping him and a 14-year-old boy in detention for misbehaving. According to Scotland Yard, the 14-year-old also attempted rape before being disturbed by another member of staff.

It is understood the woman was too distressed to give a statement to police after the incident although, contrary to a report in yesterday's Sun, she was not threatened with a knife by her assailants. The boys have been released on police bail pending further inquiries and they have been suspended from the school but the 13- year-old cannot be charged with rape because of an assumption in law that childred under 14 are incapable of the offence.

The NASUWT and the National Union of Teachers said the risk of violence in the classroom had been increased by the Government's policy of devolving resources from local education authorities in favour of local management of schools.

'When LEAs had more resources, they were able to provide facilities where problem children could get the help they needed,' an NUT spokeswoman said. 'Special schools and behavioural psychologists were more available centrally then, but now only schools prepared to bid for them can provide them. So the potentially difficult children who used to get help are now left in the classroom.

'Adoption of the Elton report would have helped. He recommended the establishment of a register to monitor violent incidents; it wasn't done. He recommended teacher training in pupil behaviour; it was started, then stopped. And he asked for more resources to be made available to build safer schools and modify existing buildings; but such funds have been cut. You name it, the Government ain't done it.'

Mr de Gruchy, of the NASUWT, criticised the police and Crown Prosecution Service for not prosecuting attackers more often. 'You can understand when they don't prosecute a couple of football fans in a punch-up on the terraces,' he said. 'But when they fail to prosecute an attack in school, discipline can suffer badly.' His members are being advised to take out private prosecutions against assailants.

The NASUWT said violence against teachers was on the increase but the NUT argued that there were no figures to establish the truth. The NUT said that 7.5 million children attended 25,000 primary and secondary schools for 190 days each year, yet last year only 65 of its 180,000 members reported attacks by pupils or their parents. Lord Elton estimated that 3,000 teachers each week became the victims of violence.

The Southwark school announced an urgent review of its safety procedures last night and called an emergency meeting of governors. John McTernan, chairman of Southwark education committee, said he was 'extremely concerned'.

'The school has no record of violence or disorder and the allegation has shocked everyone,' he said.