Review demanded over attacks at schools

SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHERS are looking for greater supports if they have been assaulted by their students.

Motions passed by two unions this week demand reviews of the legislation underpinning assault leave as a way of protecting them.

Teacher Laura O’Sullivan said some teachers face “being assaulted more than once a year and sometimes more than once a week” but find themselves limited by the amount of leave they can take to recover.

“We’re told about wellbeing the whole time but when it comes to staff it seems to be quite tokenistic, especially if you’re assaulted at work,” she told TheJournal.

O’Sullivan said schools are having to deal with widespread changes in society which impact on classrooms, from teachers suffering online homophobic bullying by students to the changes she has experienced directly.

The motion covered secondary school teachers across all schools.

O’Sullivan, who is based in Cork, said that based on her own experience working with a unit for children with complex needs, she had particular concerns around supports for teachers in that role.

“You can have lots of severe challenging behaviors, and a really volatile space, and that has to be accepted,” she said.

“It is a minority of students, and it is through no fault of their own but this is something that is happening to teachers,” she said.

At this week’s Easter conference, members of O’Sullivan’s Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) along with the ASTI (Association of Secondary Teachers) agreed unanimously to demand a review of assault leave and pressure the Department of Education to provide new supports.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland members want better terms for when teachers have been assaulted at school.

Currently, the maximum leave available for assault is three months at full pay in a rolling four-year period.

This may be extended for another three months in cases of serious assault, and O’Sullivan said that teachers should not have to use their sick leave entitlement once they have used the maximum leave available under the current scheme.

In exceptional cases, where a significant period of hospitalization is required or if subsequent assaults have taken place on the same teacher, the leave may be extended for a further period, not exceeding three months, at full pay.

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The maximum allowed is six months in a rolling four-year period.

O’Sullivan said that leave was halved during austerity.

“It seems unfair when it’s half of what you could take in the past, it’s not taking into account what some teachers are facing.”

She added that there is a fear among younger teachers especially to take leave if they’ve been assaulted. “It happened to me and it’s happening to others: you’re new to a job and don’t want to create any problems. You just want to keep your head down so that you can get permanency in your school.”

Meanwhile, at their annual congress, ASTI members voted for greater legal protections for teachers who are mentally traumatized by online, homophobic, or sexist abuse from their students.

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