News that a teacher has been stabbed in a Bradford classroom has, once again, sounded alarm bells about safety and security in our schools. Little more than a year has passed since the appalling murder of Anne Maguire at her school in nearby Leeds. Nor has the fatal stabbing of headmaster Philip Lawrence outside his school gates in London faded from the memory.
On Friday, in the wake of the latest incident, I was invited to discuss pupil violence against teachers on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine programme (38 minutes in).
Sharing the platform with me was Edward Adoo, an articulate “DJ, Broadcaster, Voiceover Artist, Writer and Music Consultant” based in London. Edward, very clearly, has his finger on the pulse of current youth culture. During our discussion he was adamant on one matter. Order has deteriorated so far in our schools that “there should be a security guard in every classroom”. He was a pupil at the school where the murder of Philip Lawrence took place and believes that in the 20 years since then things have got worse.
Edward, I think, over-stated his case but it would be foolish, indeed, to simply dismiss what he had to say. On the same day as he and I were exchanging views, the London Evening Standard carried a headline stating: “Boris ‘has failed to tackle teen knife crime’. New data from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime show that violent crime in the capital “hit a peak of 17,768 in March…up 27 per cent on the same period last year.”
If schools reflect society, as they most surely do, are we looking into the abyss? I think not or, at least, not yet. Violent physical attacks on teachers remain rare and are so shocking because of their rarity. However, a trend towards more violence in schools may be developing.
A Sky News investigation last year showed that, between 2011 and 2014, 981 pupils had weapons confiscated on school premises; 36 pupils were caught in possession of various types of gun. Three axes, a meat cleaver and a cut-throat razor contributed to the haul. All of this, of course, only represents the tip of the iceberg. 21 out of 52 police forces across Britain chose not to respond to Sky’s freedom of information request. And how many pupils in possession of weapons allow themselves to be caught by school staff? Even when weapons are discovered, given the stigma and shame, how many schools involve the police?
The threat of physical violence against teachers may be growing but, for the moment, it is not the ‘norm’. What has become the ‘norm’ in many maintained schools is the verbal abuse of teachers and abuse via social media. An NAS/UWT teacher union survey (April 2015) showed that, in the previous 12 months, 62 per cent of teachers had been subjected to abuse on social media from pupils and parents. This represented more than a doubling on the previous year. Eight per cent of teachers reported being subjected to threatening behaviour from pupils or parents over the same period.
Both percentages are matters of serious concern. They reflect underlying disorder in too many of our schools. A defining characteristic of the most successful education systems around the world is a classroom environment that is conducive to learning. We are still a long way from needing a security guard in every classroom, as Edward Adoo advocates. Nevertheless, some of our state schools are moving in that direction.