Schools dealing with sharp rise in ‘distressed’ behaviour

Thursday November 30th 2023

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Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Schools in Midlothian are reporting ‘distressed’ behaviour as violence in the classroom increases.

A meeting of Midlothian Council’s cabinet this week heard the county was experiencing similar problems to Fife where the number of violent incidents reported by teachers has nearly trebled in five years.

Councillor Stuart McKenzie called on education bosses to produce more data for elected members cataloguing incidents as he raised the question of whether the cost of living crisis was taking its toll on children and young people.

He told the meeting: “I wonder, given the back drop of continual poverty and the situation getting worse for people with more benefit sanctions coming down the road, whether when children live in a stressed environment they act that out when they go to school.”

His questions came after it was reported that Fife Council had seen the number of violent incidents reported in schools go from 1,221 in 2017 to 2,985 last year.

A Scottish Government survey suggested that more than 40 per cent of teachers have had to deal with physical violence between pupils with the abusive use of mobile phones one of the most frequently experienced serious disruptive behaviours in secondary schools.

Michelle Strong, the council’s education chief operating officer, told the meeting: “What Fife is reporting on we are also seeing in Midlothian.”

She said education staff had become better at recording incidents and are analysing the data but while there may have been a ‘sharp rise’ in incidents reported, it was still a ‘small number of children’ involved.

And she added that the main focus for her and her team was on why pupils behaved in this way and what could be done differently to address issues.

She said: “We are seeing more distressed behaviour in our schools without a doubt but it is how we respond to that and my reassurance to you is that we are all over this in terms of trying to get to a better place.”

Councillor Ellen Scott asked about reports in the media that a lot of women teachers were the targets for violence or aggression in the classroom.

She said: “I think that is worth looking into as well, what is the cause of that. There is a lot of social media influencers that are posting things that aren’t very kind to women. How do we combat that as well?”

Fiona Robertson, head of education and child services, told the meeting a conference for headteachers and principal staff was due to be held which would include health and community justice partners and look at how the help young people stay safe in the communities and online and would be discussing the issues raised.

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