Councillor fears Stirling school teachers being 'gaslit' over violent classroom attacks

Violence in schools is to be scrutinised by councillors, with some suggesting teaching and classroom staff were being “gaslit” when they reported assaults.

A meeting heard teachers and support staff are struggling with challenging behaviour as the council was urged to step in to the crisis.

Conservative councillor Bryan Flannagan said: “The scale of this is unprecedented and having spoken to members, and I won’t betray confidences, but there is a genuine fear here that teachers and support staff are being assaulted and that some are not being listened to and just being asked to get on with it - and potentially even being gaslit and told ‘well, was it that bad?’.

“It’s not the job of just the school but of everybody to make sure this is improved and I’m pleased to see this being brought up in this forum.”

A motion brought forward by SNP councillor Susan McGill, asked for a cross party group to be set up to review potential rising incidences of violence in local schools - with the group reporting back to the council by December 2024.

However, an amendment by Labour councillors was ultimately passed unanimously, asking that a report on the issue go to the June meeting of the council’s children and young people committee, which could then consider setting up a working group.

Addressing the full council meeting, Councillor McGill said the Labour administration was “kicking the issue into the long grass”, although council leader Cllr Chris Kane said the amendment was “genuinely an attempt to help” and would speed up the process.

Councillor McGill said: “Schools and nurseries in our communities do a fantastic job attempting to provide a nurturing environment of learning, with many staff going above and beyond to offer the best opportunities possible.

“However there are incidences where disruption, sometimes violent in nature, can occur which disrupts this nurturing learning environment.

“The children and young people with recognised additional needs who have disregulated behaviour in schools and other incidents without additional needs...in both these scenarios...causing anxiety, fear and injury to staff and indeed other pupils.

“Staff and pupils have a right to feel safe while they are in school. I know of staff who feel powerless when dealing with some children who display violent and abusive behaviour. I know of staff who have suffered injury. I know of staff who do not feel supported during or following such incidents.

“I’m also aware there are many incidents which are not reported. The sheer number of incidents, the lack of time, the lack of access to a reporting mechanism, cumbersome reporting systems, are some of the reasons that have been given.

“I feel we collectively have a responsibility and duty to do all we can to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all staff and pupils - including the pupils who are causing the violence, so it’s not to stigmatise these pupils. They need our help and guidance also.

“The situation in our schools, nurseries and communities is complex and I feel a short life working group should be established to look in detail at this issue, reviewing the reporting mechanism and ensuring all incidents are reported, exploring strategies to reduce and eliminate violence and abuse in our schools and nurseries.”

Fellow SNP councillor Brian Hambly, who seconded the motion, said comments had been made to him suggesting ASNs, SLAs and teachers found the reporting mechanism “useless”, with anecdotal evidence, social media and conversations with those who work within the schools environment, indicating increasing unacceptable behaviour including verbal abuse, threatening behaviour and physical violence on a daily basis. He said while even more extreme acts of violence reported nationally on school staff and particularly teachers had not happened in Stirling, the council need to have confidence that its data collecting and reporting mechanisms were “wholly appropriate and robust” and seen to be acted upon.

Children and young people convener, Labour councillor Margaret Brisley, said “good work” going on was not being acknowledged but management were taking action by encouraging more reporting of incidents. The committee had also been briefed and she had also had a meeting with trade union representatives with more to follow, and a working group would come up “a lot sooner” by going through committee.

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She added: “My understanding is that many of the staff who suffer incidents are not the teaching staff they are the support assistants etc within schools who are dealing with some of the young people with challenging behaviour.”

Independent councillor Alasdair Macpherson accused Councillor Brisley of being “cynical” by lodging an amendment purely so the SNP would not get any credit for their motion.

He added: “I’m really concerned about the growing violence in schools as well and I think the SNP’s motion is a genuine attempt and the administration wants to kick it into the long grass.”

SNP councillor Gerry McLaughlan said: “I don’t think we need a group to know that violence is rising in schools. In evidence from the EIS, 83 per cent of schools experienced violence, 71 per cent of EIS branches have recorded violence. We have our own constituents that tell us about violence. It comes down to us as a council and how we want to handle this.”

Green councillor Alasdair Tollemache said: “I have teachers within my own family, but not teaching in Stirling, who can speak to what you are describing so it’s a realistic thing that teachers are experiencing on a day to day basis.”

In March 2023, an Observer Freedom of Information request to Stirling Council showed that 92 pupils were excluded from the region’s secondary schools over the 2021/22 academic year, with 35 taken out of school in the period from April 1 to November 30 in 2022.

The most common reason was ‘general or persistent disobedience’ - recorded for 40 of the exclusions - with verbal abuse of staff (23), physical assault with no weapon against a pupil (18) and damage to school property (14) also ranking highly. The council statistics also highlighted a range of other reasons given for exclusions, including assaults on staff and pupils using weapons, spitting, slander/libel against staff and even fire-raising.