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Support staff reveal toll of abuse and violence in Aberdeen schools

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Support staff reveal toll of abuse and violence in Aberdeen schools 

Support staff in Aberdeen schools have revealed a daily toll of violence and verbal abuse.

Almost every pupil support assistant (98%) has witnessed or suffered violence or verbal abuse, according to a survey by GMB Scotland.

The union has called for greater protection for staff after three out of five (64%) of members polled say they see or suffer verbal and physical abuse on a daily basis while a third (31%) say it happens every week.

Seven out of ten (73%) of the workers, who support pupils with additional needs, do not feel safe at work with 82% claiming they are not being given enough protection.

Sean Robertson, GMB Scotland organiser in Aberdeen, said support staff are often at greater risk than teachers.

He said the survey of more than 100 pupil support assistants only confirms the scale of the crisis and the need for urgent protection for staff.

He said: “Our members are bearing the brunt of this crisis of violence in our schools and deserve every possible protection.

“No one should be expected to go to their work in fear and arrive home relieved if they have not been verbally or physically abused that day.

“Aberdeen City Council needs to accept the scale and urgency of this emergency and ensure our schools are safe for staff and pupils.

“There must be specialist training for staff in how to deal with dangerous incidents and better reporting procedures with workers being encouraged and given the time to detail what has happened.

“If these incidents are not even being reported, they cannot be investigated and nothing will change.”

Last year, a GMB Scotland survey of almost 800 school support staff, across janitorial, catering, admin cleaning, and classrooms, revealed 68% of workers fear the crisis has worsened over the last three years.

Keir Greenaway, GMB Scotland senior organiser in public services, attended a series of emergency summits called by the Scottish but said action to protect staff will count more than words.

He said: “The failure of management to properly protect staff, reassure them this crisis is being taken seriously and deliver effective training and reporting procedures is alarming.

“No one should go to work expecting to be punched, licked bit, and spat on. No one should go to work expecting to suffer verbal abuse.

“Staff need to know that every possible measure will be taken to protect them from violence and that, if it still occurs, the most robust, practical procedures are in place to ensure effective action.

“This is a national emergency and ministers and education authorities must take emergency action.”

The survey showed almost half, 47%, of the support staff taking part do not believe local authorities take the issue of violence against workers seriously while 63% have had no training in de-escalating potentially violent situations.

It suggested two thirds of incidents are never recorded while three out of four say they receive no feedback if they do report an incident.


In their own words: School support staff reveal fear and despair at rising violence

Workers in Aberdeen classrooms told GMB Scotland how they have been kicked, punched, spat on, bitten, head butted and sexually assaulted while enduring threats of violence and verbal abuse from pupils as young as five.

At least one has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder after being repeatedly assaulted.

The staff, supporting pupils with additional needs, said management do not understand the scale of the crisis because victims are not given time or encouragement to report incidents. Meanwhile, they say, many of the incidents that are reported lead to little or no action being taken.

A GMB survey of staff revealed how tables and chairs are regularly overturned or thrown while foul-mouthed verbal abuse is routine.

One staff member told how she and her colleagues had to start wearing hats because one pupil was pulling their hair out by the roots, adding: “Once he pounced on me and took hold of the back of my head and pulled me down to the ground.

“It took four staff to try to distract him and pry his hands loose but meanwhile he was pushing me away with his foot and pulling my head the opposite way.

“He then bit me on the head and pulled a whole chunk of my hair out.”

Another PSA told how their nose had been broken by a pupil while a colleague is waiting for an MRI scan for a wrist injury. Another said she is covered in bruises while a colleague has been left with permanent bald spots after her hair was pulled out.

A pupil support worker told how she is receiving counselling and is on medication for stress and anxiety after being attacked by a first year pupil.

She said: “I am still struggling to go into work every day. Even now most classes are awful with table and chairs being upturned, I ask them to stop as does the teacher but when I try phoning for help, nobody comes.

“I do love doing my job when the children are keen to get help but it can be an awful place to work and I'm very scared.

Another said: “I have personally been punched in the face, kicked, hit with objects, had chairs thrown at me, had rocks thrown at me.

“I have been touched inappropriately by a child. I have been grabbed around the neck. I have witnessed other staff being repeatedly hit and kicked, hair pulled.

“I have seen colleagues being whipped by plastic cables, plastic skipping ropes.”