Teachers vote for action against violence: Union delegates tell conference about serious incidents of classroom disruption. Judith Judd reports

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The Independent Online
TEACHERS should have panic buttons to summon help, and many more 'sin bins' should be provided to cope with growing violence in schools, a teachers' union decided yesterday.

Delegates at the annual conference of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers condemned the Government's failure to deal with disruptive pupils after hearing a catalogue of incidents in which pupils had attacked teachers.

The conference, meeting in Blackpool, was told how a headteacher was attacked with a hammer in his office, how a 15-year- old girl injured a woman teacher in Kent, and how parents of five-year- olds were now handing them over to teachers with the words 'I can't do anything with him, love. Good luck.'

Jenny Monks, a delegate from Kent, told the conference how she was assaulted and pushed to the ground by a 15-year-old girl while doing bus duty.

'She was permanently excluded but I was completely isolated. I received no guidance from the local authority. Eventually I went to the police and she was cautioned.' Nigel de Gruchy, the union's general secretary, said the proportion of local authorities which ran withdrawal units for disruptive pupils had declined rapidly.

In the mid-Eighties it was about 80 per cent. Now he estimated that it was less than half. Yet the number of disruptive pupils was increasing and they were getting younger and younger.

He said: 'The Government claims to be interested in law and order but it won't spend the money to implement that policy in schools. The biggest single factor which prevents teachers from raising standards is disruption. Withdrawal units would stop the rotten apples affecting all the others.'

Chris Keates, an executive member, said that Birmingham council had spent pounds 30,000 on two extra staff and dinner ladies so that a very disruptive eight-year-old could remain in school.

'That money would have gone a long way towards funding an appropriate unit.' Brian Morton, from Sheffield, said teachers at his school had set up their own 'sin bin' staffed in non-teaching time. He described receiving a note from a supply teacher in charge of a class of 'knife-wielding' 15-year-olds. It read: 'I have chaos. I am going.'

Mr de Gruchy said that all teachers should have alarms. 'They could be introduced relatively quickly and cheaply with some of the money the Department for Education is spending on publicity.'

Referring to the death of 12-year- old Nikki Conroy, who was stabbed during a mathematics lesson at her 1,000 pupil comprehensive school in Middlesbrough just over a week ago, he said: 'If the teacher at Hall Garth had a panic button it might have helped.'

The motion, which was carried overwhelmingly, urged the Government to change the law so that parents could not appeal against the exclusion of a pupil which was backed by a head and governors.

Mr de Gruchy said that the Government's insistence on parent power meant that the parents of disruptive children now had the power to be irresponsible. 'Everything is stacked in favour of the disruptive pupil. The right to appeal has made it easier for the parents of these impossible children to appeal against exclusion and sometimes win.'

Earlier, the conference had rejected a motion that parents should have to sign contracts acknowledging that they had a duty to discipline their children. But there were strong words from some delegates about parents who expected schools to succeed in disciplining their children where they had failed.