Weapons, violence, disruption and drugs all on the rise in Britain's schools

New research commissioned by the National Union of Teachers says a 'hard core' of schools is reporting worrying levels of serious misbehaviour

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Sunday 23 March 2008 01:00

Every week up to 8,000 teachers will deal with a pupil carrying an offensive weapon such as a knife or a gun, according to research published today.

Teachers are facing worrying levels of violence, drug dealing, poor behaviour and disruption in schools across the country, the National Union of Teachers has warned.

The proportion of teachers who report dealing with an offensive weapon has risen from 0.5 per cent a week in 2001 to 1.9 per cent. Reported incidents of drug taking in schools have more than doubled in seven years – from 1 per cent of teachers reporting incidents to 2.2 per cent of teachers. And the numbers of pupils carrying offensive weapons has gone up by more than 25 per cent: the 2.6 per cent of teachers reporting incidents in a month rising to 3.3 per cent. The study also showed that more than one in 10 teachers now reported being pushed or manhandled by pupils.

While overall levels of disruption in schools fell, the study, by Dr Sean Neill of Warwick University's Institute of Education, revealed that serious incidents were increasingly concentrated in a "hard core" of schools serving disadvantaged areas.

"There is a polarisation taking place between schools," said Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers – which commissioned the research. "We have a hard core group of schools with worrying levels of violence, poor behaviour and disruption.

"Overall, there seems to be an improvement in discipline, but this core group of schools are still reporting these very significant issues. I think in these schools the situation has got significantly worse."

He said that bringing weapons into school was completely unacceptable. "You can't make yourself safer by carrying a weapon. You just make yourself more vulnerable. We need to get that message across."

John Bangs, assistant secretary of the union, added: "In some of our toughest schools in the toughest areas, teachers are reporting – particularly among children from socially deprived backgrounds and particularly among boys – they are encountering these problems. This is a massive problem we have yet to crack. Do not assume it is just the urban areas exclusively – some of the toughest areas are in the country, on the outskirts of small and medium-sized towns."

Teachers reported that boys from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to have lower aspirations, be worse behaved, to commit offences and to become gang members and teenage fathers. Girls showed similar problems.

"We need to change the Government's slogan from education, education, education to education, education, education and equality, equality, equality," said Mr Sinnott.

He said he had written to the Secretary of State for Schools, Ed Balls, urging him to give more publicity to teachers' new powers to confiscate weapons and restrain pupils.

Teachers in the survey said that rather than tackle the problem with more pupil referral units ("sin bins"), they would prefer action to reduce class sizes, make the curriculum less restrictive and get more support from parents for school discipline.

Mr Sinnott said: "They don't support referral units and the 'bash the living daylights out of them' approach. I find that very heartening indeed." The union, which is holding its annual conference in Manchester this weekend, said that further research it had commissioned also showed a dramatic decline in life expectancy in some areas.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said schools could use "arch" and "wand" metal detectors to ensure weapons did not get on to the premises.

He added: "It is important to remember that, as this survey shows, the overwhelming majority of schools are safe places to learn and work, and the use of weapons within them is extremely rare. We back heads in having to take the tough decision to exclude where behaviour warrants it."

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