KNIVES, metal bars, BB guns and lighters are among the weapons that British children are bringing to school to attack teachers and fellow pupils, The Irish Post has learnt.
With the country still in shock at the stabbing to death of Ann Maguire in a Leeds classroom, Irish teachers working across England have painted a distressing picture of the dangers they face on a daily basis.
They reported a wide range of violent attacks carried out by children as young as five, ranging from kickings to stabbings.
Their comments suggest that the problem is at its height in inner-city schools, with some London teachers claiming it is now the norm for pupils to be found carrying potentially lethal weapons.
“A few years ago I had a child bring a knife into school and he was overheard saying he was going to stab another child in the woods after school,” said an Irish woman who has taught in London primary schools for more than a decade.
“We have also had children bring lighters into school and start fires in the toilet. Two years ago one of my pupils brought in a BB gun and shot another child in the knee before school.”
Government statistics have revealed that almost 1,000 pupils were caught with weapons at school in the last three years. The 981 cases included guns, axes and a meat cleaver, with 329 pupils later charged with a criminal offence.
The problem is feared to be much worse, as 21 of Britain’s 52 police forces did not supply figures for the Freedom of Information request from Sky News.
Half of the 12 teachers interviewed by us last week said they had not witnessed violence personally, but the majority said they were aware of colleagues’ fears of the weapons being carried at their school.
A Manchester-based deputy head with 22 years of experience told The Irish Post that most teachers do not fear violence from pupils.
But the secondary school teacher added that he has worked in schools where a child was stabbed by a fellow pupil and where two students were discovered with metal bars in their bags that they intended to use in a fight.
In another case, two “well-built” members of staff were needed to break up a fight involving a 15-year-old student, with one being pushed to the floor as he tried to restrain the child.
The threat is so serious in some parts of the country that Irish teachers who came here to find work have left the profession for good.
Yet some claim they have received no training to help them deal with violent pupils and fear the consequences of laying their hands on a child in school.
“There are laws in place to say a teacher can restrain a pupil in the appropriate circumstances but in light of what happened this week, more debate and awareness needs to be focused on violence by schools,” said one London-based teacher.
The teachers’ shocking testimony comes as the killing of Ann Maguire has sparked a national debate about the safety of British schools.
The prospect has been raised of US-style security at school gates, with students having to pass through metal detectors before entering the premises, being introduced here.
But some have sought to quell teachers’ fears by pointing out that violence against staff has declined in recent years.
According to the latest figures from the Department for Education, 550 pupils were expelled from maintained state schools in 2011-12 for physical assaults against adults, compared with 730 in 2008-9.
A DfE spokesperson said it had given teachers the power to search pupils without consent if they suspect a pupil has brought a weapon into school and confiscate any weapons discovered.
But one teaching union warned that although classroom violence has not increased in recent years, Mrs Maguire’s killing has highlighted the dangers teachers face at work.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, acknowledged it was “an isolated incident”, but said questions needed to be asked “to make sure every precaution is in place” to protect teachers.