Commenting on reports, ahead of a Downing Street Summit today on violent crime, that teachers could face additional legal duties being placed on them regarding pupil safety, Ms Chris Keates General Secretary of NASUWT - The Teachers’ Union, said:
“All professionals involved with children and young people are well aware of their responsibilities for safeguarding their health and welfare.
“Violent crime involving young people, of course, needs to be taken seriously and appropriate strategies considered. However, this is a complex issue which will not be resolved by putting additional pressures and responsibilities on teachers and head teachers or indeed others.
“It is concerning that a narrative appears to be developing whereby schools excluding pupils are potentially being scapegoated as being part of the problem, with exclusion being cited as a reason for pupils becoming involved in knife crime and gangs.
“Schools exclude as a last resort and it should be remembered that exclusions in too many instances are because pupils have brought offensive weapons on site or have engaged in violence against staff and other pupils.
“Teachers do a great job on a daily basis of managing the behaviour of pupils and maintaining high standards of behaviour, but this has become increasingly difficult.
“There have been savage cuts by Government to local authority funding which has resulted in either the severe reduction or the disappearance altogether of specialist external support, including appropriate referral units on which schools have been able in the past to rely.
“In addition, in many areas the pressure on schools to take pupils with serious behaviour issues, who should be in specialist provision, has increased.
“Teachers are entitled to teach and pupils are entitled to learn in an environment free from violence and disruption. If exclusion is necessary to achieve this, then schools must be free to exercise their right to exclude. It’s the responsibility of Government to ensure there is appropriate provision for excluded pupils.
“If the causes of violence involving young people are to be examined at the Summit today, then the contribution government social, economic and education policies make must be on the table for consideration.
“Threatening staff such as teachers, who already have a difficult and challenging job, that they will be held accountable for failing to spot any warning signs of violent crime is an unacceptable response and will simply add to the myriad of government-driven factors which are causing teachers to leave the profession and deterring potential recruits from applying.
“Evidence in other contexts shows that systems of mandatory reporting, backed by criminal sanctions for any failure to comply, promote a culture of defensive reporting. In such circumstances, the police, local social services and other agencies may be overwhelmed by referrals, many of which would be inappropriate and serve only to reduce the ability of the system to focus on those children and young people at most risk.”