Nearly 60% of special needs assistants assaulted by pupils, conference told

School managers see such attacks as ‘part of the job’, says Impact official

Siobhan Canavan (left) and Anna Marie Deegan, South Dublin, South Leinster SNA branch, at the inaugural conference of Impact's education division in Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

Siobhan Canavan (left) and Anna Marie Deegan, South Dublin, South Leinster SNA branch, at the inaugural conference of Impact's education division in Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan


Almost 60 per cent of special needs assistants (SNAs) in schools say they have been assaulted by the pupils they work with in the classroom.

Incidents reported by SNAs include attempted strangulation, hitting, biting, hair-pulling and being hit by objects, according to an Impact survey, with 2 per cent reported as “very serious incidents” and 12 per cent requiring medical attention.

School managers see assaults by pupils on special needs assistants as “part of the job”, the assistant general secretary of the Impact trade union has claimed.

Dessie Robinson made his remarks at the inaugural conference of Impact’s trade union’s education division in Kilkenny, while unveiling the results of the survey.

Union members voted to ask all schools to offer a hepatitis B vaccine to SNAs because the survey showed some serious assaults result in blood injuries.

Response to assault
School management’s response to assaults was “dismissive” in 43 per cent of cases, the survey of more than 1,900 SNAs revealed.

Mr Robinson described the response of “most” school principals and management boards as “totally inadequate” and said it was putting the safety of staff, and potentially pupils, at risk. “Some school principals take assaults seriously,” he said. “But the overwhelming experience of SNAs is that managers and management boards are dismissive of the issue and see assaults as part of the job.”

Delegates at the conference passed a motion yesterday calling for Impact members working in education to get “the same protection” offered to members in the health division, via a physical assault scheme.

One SNA, who was assaulted, told the union that such incidents were happening on a daily basis, “a possible 10 incidences per staff member per day”. Colleagues had been “desensitised” to the situation, the member said.

The issue of bullying, both of pupils and staff at schools, was the subject of a panel discussion featuring a number of guest speakers. Ian Power of the website, which offers advice to teenagers, said the main concern should be creating an environment of respect for both pupils and staff in a school.

‘Whole-school approach’
“One of the things about it is that there needs to be a whole-school approach. If part of the community is left out, it’s not going to work,” he said, adding that a “restorative” approach to resolving issues of bullying in school can sometimes work better than a “punitive” approach.

“There needs to be a consistent message from day one. . . There’s no point punishing students when you haven’t laid down the ground rules from the start.”

Áine Lynch of the National Parents’ Council (primary) said that, for many years, children had “picked on” teachers, “and are still doing it” but were now using a different medium of communication – such as social network websites rather than writing letters or spreading rumours.

Other resolutions passed included calls on the Government to reverse further cuts in third-level education; not to introduce fees in institutes of technology; and to introduce parenting courses for some parents as part of enrolment policies in schools.

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