60% of SNAs assaulted at work

Almost 60% of special needs assistants (SNAs) have been assaulted by the children they work with, according to a survey conducted by IMPACT trade union. Some 90% of those who have been assaulted have experienced assaults more than once, with 18% saying it’s a daily occurrence and the same number saying it happens every week.

The survey of over 1,900 SNAs reveals that school management’s response to assaults was “dismissive” in 43% of cases. While half the assaults were described as ‘mild,’ 12% were ‘serious assaults,’ which required some medical attention while 2% were ‘very serious’ assaults, which meant they required hospital treatment. Virtually none of the respondents – 97% of whom were women – took sick leave following the assaults.

Assaults listed in the survey included hitting, biting, shoving, attempted strangulation, hair-pulling, scratching, slapping, pushing and being hit with objects.

The survey results were revealed at IMPACT’s Education Division conference in Kilkenny today (Thursday), where delegates representing 10,000 non-teaching education staff passed motions calling for the introduction of a physical assault scheme similar to the one used in the health sector. IMPACT also wants hepatitis B vaccines to be available to SNAs, because some serious assaults result in blood injuries. The union is also seeking proper health and safety training and procedures to create a safe classroom environment for pupils and staff alike.

Unveiling the survey results, IMPACT assistant general secretary Dessie Robinson said the attitude of most school principals and management boards was “totally inadequate” and that this was putting the safety of staff – and potentially pupils – at risk. “Some school principals take assaults seriously. 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. They just shrug their shoulders and expect staff to carry on as if nothing had happened

“In this case, a safe working environment is also a safe learning environment. Some, though by no means all, children with special needs have difficulties with challenging behaviour and anger-management. That is part of the job. But schools have a legal and moral responsibility to put in place proper risk assessment, safety procedures, training, and supports for those who experience assault. This is essential to ensure the safety of the kids involved, other children in the classroom and all staff,” he said.

Mr Robinson said IMPACT fully supported integrated education for children with special needs and said the union had campaigned for years to build and develop the SNA role to help underpin integrated education for children with special needs. “Creating and maintaining a safe classroom environment is part of sustaining and expanding integration,” he added.

Mr Robinson said one SNA contacted the union after filling in the survey: “I filled out the survey when I was out on sick leave. I have recently returned to work and have had an opportunity to step back and observe these incidents. While I responded that it was a weekly occurrence, on reflection it is daily: a possible ten incidences per staff member per day in my class. Having talked to a few colleagues, it seems we have been desensitised to this situation. I think the survey may really underestimate the real truth.”

IMPACT conducted the survey after recording a significant increase in members’ queries about workplace assaults. It was conducted online, using surveymonkey.com, between 14th February and 8th March 2013. There were 1,909 responses.