Tiny thugs: How teachers are living in fear of violence from pupils as young as five
21:11 GMT, 15 August 2012
The schoolboy is running around the classroom shouting when his young, female teacher tells him that if he won’t sit still and do his work, he will have to finish it at lunchtime.
Seconds later, furious at being told off, the child shoves the teacher to the floor.
The tiny thug continues to lash out, punching and hitting her repeatedly before sinking his teeth deep into the flesh of her upper arm. He is just five years old.
Classroom violence: The number of primary school children suspended for physical assaults in the 2010/11 academic year was 9,160 Unruly behaviour: Teachers say parents are to blame for the rising tide of violence among children aged four and five (posed by models)
A particularly disturbed child in a school for difficult children No. This assault took place at an ordinary primary school in Manchester.
And, alarmingly, such violence against teachers by primary school children is on the rise across Britain.The Mail talked to the 26-year-old teacher involved in the latest case this week. Terrified of losing her job, she declined to be identified.
‘The little boy was very tired that day and had clearly not had a lot of sleep,’ she says. ‘I told him that if he didn’t do his work, then he would have to stay behind and finish it.
‘He couldn’t handle that and just exploded. He launched himself at me and started hitting and biting me. It was appalling, not least because I didn’t feel I could fight back.
'I will give myself ten years in the job, and if it doesn’t improve, I’ll do something else because the pressure is not worth it.
‘It wears you down every day. It is really exhausting.’
Other teachers the Mail spoke to this week expressed similar feelings of despair over the rising tide of violence among children aged four and five.
As the Mail reported last month, 90 primary school children in Britain are sent home every school day for attacking teachers or classmates.
90 primary school children in Britain are sent home every school day for attacking teachers or classmates
The number of primary school children suspended for physical assaults on other children was 9,160 in the 2010/11 academic year. Another 7,830 children were suspended for assaulting adults.
Most teachers agree that the blame for this explosion of violence can be laid squarely at the feet of parents.
A lack of discipline at home and children raised on a diet of junk food, fizzy drinks and hours spent playing violent computer games are all having serious repercussions in the classroom.
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says: ‘What our teachers are telling us is that there is definitely a rise in bad behaviour of little children who seem to have very short fuses and who suddenly just “kick off”.
‘When a child at primary level is out of control, that quickly leads to physical aggression, because they don’t have the vocabulary to express themselves. It leads to lashing out — and that is the overwhelming reason children in primary schools are being excluded.’
The root of the problem, she believes, is the failure of parents to impose consistent boundaries at home. Many of today’s mothers and fathers seem to want to be their children’s friends, she says, rather than their parents.
‘There is a rise in the number of parents afraid to impose boundaries because their child will say “You are a bad mummy”, or “I don’t like you,” ’ says Dr Bousted.
‘School is often a child’s first experience of being in a public place, where different rules apply. It’s not the child’s fault they’ve not experienced those boundaries.’
Unruly behaviour: Teachers say parents are to blame for the rising tide of violence among children aged four and five (posed by models)
The consequences of this lack of discipline are now being witnessed in primary schools everywhere.
The teacher attacked in Manchester says: ‘Many of the children either don’t have the ability to sit down for five minutes because they are wriggling and hyper and have been filled up with fizzy drinks and sweets at home, or else they are exhausted because they have been up all night watching TV or playing computer games.
‘A lot of them aren’t ready to learn because there is no routine at home, no discipline and they cannot follow instructions.
‘Sometimes, at the age of four or five, they can’t even speak in simple sentences. If you tell them put your coat on your peg, they don’t understand — at home they are barely spoken to.’
And it’s not just the children. Parents often lash out verbally or physically when they’re told their child has been misbehaving.
Another primary school teacher, from Lincolnshire, says: ‘In the past when you’ve had problems with children, parents would have been supportive. Now they are not. It’s never their children’s fault — it’s everyone else’s.’
When the 39-year-old started teaching, the parents of misbehaving children would often come in and apologise. Now that rarely happens.
The risk of a teacher being assaulted by a parent is so high that at her school there is a policy that no member of staff can be in a room with a parent alone.
‘For years I never had a child who had to be excluded,’ she says. ‘But in recent years I’ve had things thrown at me and have been hit and spat at.’
Even when parents are willing to acknowledge their child has problems, they often go to extraordinary lengths to avoid facing the possibility the misbehaviour might be their fault.
‘If a child has a behavioural issue, then parents will immediately try to get them diagnosed with a condition such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),’ says the Lincolnshire teacher.
‘As a result, we are seeing more and more children on the drug Ritalin to treat them for ADHD. Yes, some of them do need it, but a lot of them don’t.
‘They’re on it so parents can then say it’s not their fault. Instead, it will be: “My child’s got ADHD — it’s not my problem.” They can use it as an excuse.’
All the teachers who spoke to the Mail said the excessive amount of time their pupils were spending watching television or playing computer games was fuelling the surge in violence among the very young.
Having been a reception teacher for almost 40 years, Alison Sherratt became interested in the effect violent computer games were having after she and fellow teachers at her school in Keighley, West Yorkshire, noted a deterioration in behaviour.
‘The children were getting more aggressive, they were punching people for no apparent reason,’ she says. ‘I found that out of 27 four and five-year-olds in my class, all bar three had TVs or laptops in their rooms. Most had a Nintendo or a PlayStation.’
While some would argue that children have always played with guns and watched cartoons such as Tom & Jerry, Ms Sherratt argues that today’s games are far more graphic. ‘When a head gets chopped off, the blood comes spurting out,’ she says.
With less than a month to go before the start of the school year, it’s not just the parents of the new primary school intake who are feeling nervous.