School staff face violent attacks from pupils, with some receiving death threats, new research finds 

Teaching assistants have reported being kicked, punched and spat at by pupils in mainstream primary and secondary schools, according to new research released today (Monday).

The analysis is the first to look at the violence and aggression faced by teaching and classroom assistants in England, Scotland and Wales. Extensive data already exists into pupil-on-pupil violence and aggression towards teachers and senior managers.

University of Roehampton criminologist Dr Amanda Holt led the qualitative research that involved in-depth interviews with 16 teaching and classroom assistants.  UNISON helped recruit the support staff who took part in the research.

All described being the target of student aggression in a range of ways, including being hit in the face, punched, kicked and bitten. Researchers found that in several cases staff reported receiving death threats from pupils.

Physical injuries included cuts, a black eye, a dislocated thumb, a broken finger and ripped ligaments. Staff also reported a range of psychological problems, including stress, anxiety and depression. Two workers were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The report also noted that the response of schools to attacks was sometimes inadequate. Teaching assistants felt the message from their employers was that it was their job to manage pupil violence. This, combined with their low status, normalised violence against them. ?

The report includes guidance on the steps schools should take to better protect teaching assistants in future. UNISON is rolling out the new advice about dealing with violent behaviour.

Dr Holt said: “For the first time there’s an understanding of the ferocity of attacks on teaching assistants and their devastating physical and mental toll.

“This knowledge will help schools better understand and improve their response to violent behaviour by pupils. Setting out the steps every school should take to protect staff and support them in the aftermath of an attack is an important first step.

“The shocking experiences described by staff who took part in the research reflect a much wider problem highlighted in an earlier survey by UNISON. This found 53% of teaching assistants had experienced physical violence from students in the previous year.

“This raises big questions about the expectation of schools, and in some cases insistence, that teaching assistants should be the first line of defence against pupils who display violent or aggressive behaviour.

“With the profession dominated by women, forcing them to become classroom enforcers could do long-term harm. Combined with the role’s lack of professional status, this risks creating an environment where violence becomes normal, particularly towards women. As pupils become adults this worrying development could have serious ramifications for society.”

UNISON head of education Mike Short said: “Teaching assistants are the backbone of every school, but their wholly unjustified, low professional status is stopping some schools from seeing their true value and vulnerability.

“Schools seem to have forgotten that without teaching assistants risking their health, and that of their families, during the pandemic, schools would have been closed to vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.

“Improving the reporting process around attacks, providing staff with medical and psychological support and ensuring they don’t have to continue working with the young person who’s just assaulted them must be adopted as a matter of urgency. This would also be helpful to pupils given the stress and disruption to learning that violent behaviour can cause.

“Low pay and high stress are already fuelling an exodus of teaching assistants. Expecting them to put up with attacks and assaults will force more out of the door, and that’s bad for pupils and schools alike.”

Notes to editors:
– The following case study shared her experiences (the name has been changed):
Hannah said: “The first assault was in 2008. I was left with nerve damage in my spine after the full weight of a boy who was fighting two other lads landed on my shoulder. I live with chronic pain. My family had to support me financially. I was assaulted for the second time in 2017 when a boy karate-kicked my crutch away, aggravating my nerve damage. I retired due to poor health.”
The full report can be read here.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.
– The University of Roehampton, London, is an established international higher-education institution providing a high-quality learning and research experience with the aim of developing personal growth and driving social change.


The article School staff face violent attacks from pupils, with some receiving death threats, new research finds  first appeared on the UNISON National site.

Headteachers fear losing increasingly vital teaching assistants as cost-of-living pressures bite?s

Teaching assistants are still filling the gaps left by specialist staff ?during the pandemic and providing vital emotional support to students and parents, ?according to a UNISON-commissioned report ?published today (?Thursday).

From Covid to the Cost of Living provides a snapshot of the way ?Covid has fundamentally changed the role of teaching assistants, says UNISON.

The report also captures headteachers’ concerns that chronic low pay is driving more teaching assistants out of classrooms to better paid, less stressful jobs ?in other parts of the economy.

The report challenges Liz Truss’ government to do more to acknowledge, support, reward and ?train teaching assistants whose responsibilities and workloads have soared as schools struggle to help pupils catch-up in the wake of the pandemic, says UNISON.

?For the research, University of Portsmouth academics interviewed teaching assistants, teachers and school leaders at five primary schools in England. They found that teaching assistants were delivering a range of vital services and informal support to families, on top of their normal duties.

The report describes, for example, how teaching assistants regularly help parents complete benefit application forms, while others have helped set up food and clothing banks for families in financial difficulty.

Researchers also heard that teaching assistants calling parents during the pandemic to check how they were coping, were often greeted by distraught parents struggling with the stress of the lockdowns and isolation.

Teaching assistants took on specialist roles – such as delivering speech and language therapy – when expert staff couldn’t go into schools due to the lockdowns. Despite restrictions being scrapped, teaching assistants continue to carry out these roles, as demand for specialist staff outstripped supply when schools reopened.

The report also chart?s the devastating impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on teaching assistants and ?makes the ?case for staff to receive decent pay, says UNISON. ?

Support staff mentioned the high cost of fuel ?as a particular strain on their finances, ?to such an extent some said they could no longer afford to drive to work.

Headteachers are aware of the financial hit teaching assistants are taking and the impact ?on schools if staff continue to leave, says ?the report. One headteacher ?said they had been ?constantly advertising for teaching assistants since the start of the year but had only been able to fill one out of eight positions.

To halt the exodus of teaching assistants, the report recommends ministers take an urgent look at better rewarding teaching assistants, says UNISON.

The government must also invest in the workforce by creating opportunities for professional development that build on the skills staff already possess and the new responsibilities taken on since Covid struck, says the report.

UNISON head of education Mike Short said: “Teaching assistants stepped-up during the pandemic and repeatedly proved their worth, as they ?were doing long before the crisis struck.

“But chronic low pay is threatening to rob classrooms of dedicated, experienced staff, just when schools need them most.

“The report highlights the value headteachers place on teaching assistants, and the important role training ?p?lays in boosting skills, status and pay.” ?

University of Portsmouth researcher Dr Rob Webster, who co-authored the report with Dr Sophi?e Hall, said: “Schools are facing many challenges, but the consequence of the loss of teaching assistants is the most catastrophic.

“Without these staff, schools will struggle to provide adequate support to children with additional needs. Teachers’ workloads will also skyrocket, driving yet more from the profession and deterring others from joining.

“The report makes it clear that while there are things schools can do to boost staff morale, a properly funded effort to support and retain teaching assistants is urgently needed.”

Notes to editors:
– The full report, From Covid to the Cost of Living: The crises remaking the role of teaching assistants, can be read here.
– The report was commissioned by UNISON and conducted by the Education Research, Innovation and Consultancy Unit based at the University of Portsmouth between March and June 2022.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.


The article Headteachers fear losing increasingly vital teaching assistants as cost-of-living pressures bite?s first appeared on the UNISON National site.