UNION chiefs today played down fears over new figures which show a sharp rise in the number of attacks on teachers.
Official statistics show that last year Sunderland City Council recorded 158 attacks, three times as many as in the previous year, on teachers, classroom assistants and dinner ladies.
Some victims needed medical treatment, while others required the assistance of their colleagues to bring pupils under control.
However, despite being concerned by the jump, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said the figures also reflected the increasing number of staff who were now prepared to officially report incidents.
Howard Brown, the NUT divisional officer for Wearside, said: “I would expect the recorded numbers of such attacks in Sunderland to be high.
“During the past four years, the local authority and teacher unions have been encouraging staff to report such incidents – often against the wishes of their head teacher.
“We don’t believe there is a problem in Sunderland – but worryingly some younger children feel it is okay to ‘lash out’ at adults.
“With this knowledge we can help support school and child so that they don’t become too much of a problem when they get bigger.”
Nevertheless, Mr Brown also expressed fears that some local authorities were not recognising the problem, with two of the region’s largest councils admitting they don’t even record the assaults.
Although Sunderland City Council records the number of attacks, and notes if they took place in primaries, secondaries or special schools, Northumberland County Council and Newcastle City Council said they could provide no information because they keep no records.
They claimed there was no requirement on a local authority to collect such data, which was held by individual schools.
“Both the local authority and unions need accurate figures as we look at trends so that we may be able to support schools and teachers that have a high proportion of such attacks,” said Mr Brown.
“Other local authorities are not quite so pro-active as Sunderland.”
Beverley Scanlon, head of commissioning and change management at Sunderland City Council, said the local authority took all reported incidents “seriously”.
“The city council emphasises the importance to schools of reporting all incidents, including those of a minor nature,” she said. “This active encouragement may explain why the most recent figures, a significant number of which were indeed for minor incidents, are higher than in previous years.
“All incidents reported are treated seriously and we work closely with schools to look at ways to reduce the number of incidents taking place and to fully support teachers who have reported an incident.”
Elsewhere, the figures, which cover the period between September 2009 and July 2010, show 372 attacks took place in schools in County Durham, including 10 cases were teachers had been assaulted by parents.
Education chiefs at Durham County Council, the largest local authority in the region, said it also encourages schools to report all attacks, both physical and verbal.