Teaching assistants at a special needs school in Braintree are being bitten, kicked and spat on but managers are doing nothing about the violence, school support staff union UNISON warns today.
A survey of support staff at The Edith Borthwick School found that 82% are worried about levels of violence, but only 19% of respondents thought bosses took the problem seriously.
Half (11 out of 22) said they had had at least one injury requiring medical assistance in the last year, while many said they had experienced too many minor injuries to count.
Staff report being kicked in the face, concussions and dislocated joints at the hands of students.
One worker was bitten on the wrist so hard it broke the skin but was not told to log the incident. When they went to a routine doctor’s appointment days later the nurse was “shocked and disgusted” that the bite went unreported and no hepatitis jab had been given. The wound became infected several times and has since left scars.
But most staff who had to take time off (10 out of 17) said they had not had enough support to return to work, while two-thirds of those who answered (10 out of 15) said they had returned to work from an injury too soon, citing feelings of guilt about letting other support staff down.
The survey revealed that staff were even discouraged from seeking first aid after an incident as it would put pressure on other staff, while one worker whose injuries were serious enough for a hospital visit was expected to get there under their own steam.
And County Council figures suggest Edith Borthwick is the most violent special needs school in Essex.
Freedom of information requests showed that in Essex’s 19 special needs schools, staff were assaulted by pupils 126 times in the last 12 months – 107 (85%) of them were at Edith Borthwick.
UNISON Eastern area organiser Abby Kimantas said: “There are truly shocking levels of violence at Edith Borthwick but managers seem content to shrug their shoulders.
“It’s only a matter of time until someone suffers life-changing injuries at the school.
“Special needs support staff come to work to make a difference to children’s lives, instead they face daily abuse and injury because they don’t have the resources to cope with the complex needs of those they’re there to help.
“And managers are rubbing salt in their wounds by failing to respond to the barrage of serious incidents at the school.
“Edith Borthwick must address why it leads the county in assaults against its workers and make the school a safer place for staff and students alike.”
The view from inside
Support staff wished to remain anonymous, but one told UNISON that they were working as relief staff when they had to take a child well-known for violent behaviour into a quiet room with another member of staff.
“When I tried to stop him from clawing the other member of staff’s face, he turned around suddenly and bit me on my wrist,” they said.
“Despite me having a woolly cardigan and a long sleeve top on, this bite broke the skin badly. He had literally latched on to my arm with his teeth and the other member of staff had to remove him from my arm.
“Prior to this, I had had no training at all to deal with violent behaviour or any other training at all. I had not been told that I needed to or how to log serious incidents/injuries.
“I went to the doctors for a routine asthma check-up around two days after this incident and when I was there I asked the nurse to check it out. She was absolutely shocked and disgusted that they had not told me that I needed to log the incident, and that I had not been given my hepatitis B injection, which the school are meant to administer before anyone starts working there.
“Within the next month the wound got infected several times and caused me a lot of discomfort and I still have scars of teeth marks on my wrist now.”