VIOLENT incidents in county primary schools are on the increase, with teachers facing physical and verbal abuse from children as young as five, says a teaching union.

The EIS has said that staff are working in environments where fear of violence and assault exists, creating anxiety and stress.

And it is calling for urgent action, warning that behavioural problems among children are not only affecting teachers but making it harder to recruit more people into the job and threatening standards in the classroom.

The comments come after it was alleged that a six-year-old pupil kicked a female teacher in the face during a lesson in East Lothian earlier this month, leaving her shocked and injured, and other children who witnessed the incident in tears.

Colleagues of the teacher said that it was not an isolated incident in primary schools across the county and they voiced frustration that their hands were tied by East Lothian Council’s inclusive approach, which is said to make it almost impossible to exclude disruptive pupils.

One teacher said: “We are trying to teach with our hands tied behind our backs. We cannot protect our children and no action is taken against those who are violent.

“Parents have no idea how bad it has become in the classrooms.

“We have a list of things we cannot do when faced with a disruptive pupil but nothing to tell us what we can do.”

It was claimed the child who assaulted the teacher was back in class the following school day.

The council confirmed it was aware of an incident at a school this month, a spokesman saying: “We are aware of an incident but are unable to comment on the details.”

Teachers said that while reports were submitted each time an assault took place, they did not receive any feedback or additional help.

One said: “A pregnant colleague was assaulted and went to hospital to be checked after the incident. She did not even receive a call to check on her condition.”

Fiona Robertson, head of education and child services at East Lothian Council, said that all incidents were treated seriously, with support given to staff as required.

She said: “Any form of violence, regardless of its nature or frequency, is completely unacceptable.”

Mrs Robertson said that the council had introduced policies and procedures in line with national guidance.

However, Gael Gillian, EIS East Lothian secretary, said the policies did not address the immediate problem.

She said: “East Lothian has, as almost every local authority, an increasing issue with violence in primary schools.

“The EIS challenges the assumption that teachers should be expected to tolerate and deal with violent behaviour from pupils.

“The EIS expects schools to be a safe working environment for all, free from violent behaviour, where teachers can concentrate on learning and teaching.

“East Lothian Council has recently produced two policies that relate to pupil behaviour.

“I know that eradicating violent incidents will not happen overnight. However, what are teachers expected to do tomorrow and the next day and the next when they are faced with physical and verbal abuse from children as young as five?”

And she said teachers were expected to report any incident of violent or abusive behaviour but added: “Many teachers just do not have time to complete reports of violence, often stating that nothing happens when they do manage to report. This leaves teachers feeling unsupported.”

She added: “The incidence of violence and assaults on teaching staff – in addition to the anxiety and stress arising from working in environments where the fear of violence and assault exists – are clear examples of risks to teacher health, safety and welfare which must be assessed and supported.”

Mrs Robertson said: “While the vast majority of children and young people behave appropriately in and around the classroom and our schools are known for providing happy and safe learning environments, it’s important that we support our staff in dealing with incidents when and if they do occur.

“We have appropriate policies and procedures in place, including our new Included, Engaged and Involved – managing distressed and challenging behaviour policy, which is in line with national guidance.

“Within our policy there is clear guidance on grounds for exclusion, in line with national legislation. 

“Our inclusive approach is one that is very much consistent with national best practice. This session we are training all staff across our schools on this new policy enabling staff to deploy effective strategies to support pupils who may exhibit challenging or distressed behaviour.

“We are listening to staff and parents and are about to undertake a personal support survey.

“We will also continue to explore and develop our strategies to provide staff with the appropriate level of support to meet the wide-ranging needs of our children and young people.

“Crucially, we will always support our staff in ensuring they, and our children and young people, continue to feel safe in our schools.”

The Courier asked the council for figures on the number of reported violent incidents on teachers in the county but was told to submit a Freedom of Information request, which we have now done.