Break the taboo – Raise awareness for violence against teachers

Published on Friday, 17 March 2017
Break the taboo – Raise awareness for violence against teachers Credits: Jeff Troth (Flickr)

When there is no data on violence against teachers, nobody has to react - that seems to be the opinion of politicians all over Germany. But the Verband Bildung und Erziehung (VBE) were no longer willing to remain silent and commissioned the German forsa Institute for Social Research and Statistical Analysis to conduct a survey on the issue. It was published in November 2016.

The findings of the study are deeply disturbing. 57 % of all respondents stated that “violence against teachers” is a taboo topic in German schools, making the case for raising public awareness about the issue, to show affected teachers that they are not alone. All the more disturbing is the fact that about half of the questioned teachers reported cases of psychological violence against teachers in their school over the past five years. One quarter stated that they had been direct victims of violence. 20 % of the 1,951 surveyed teachers reported cases of physical violence against teachers at their school in the last 5 years and 6 % said they have endured physical violence themselves.

What options teachers have when they have been victims of violence varies depending on the group of offenders. 63 % of teacher respondents experienced psychological violence by pupils and 53 % of the respondents said they have experienced aggression from parents.

In cases of psychological violence by pupils against teachers, 86 % of teachers stated that they took action, but just 7 % of the respondents filled an official complaint to the police. Pupils can also be punished through educational or disciplinary measures at the school level – but according to the survey only 25 % of teachers take these measures. It is often the case that teachers did not take action because they felt the incident was insignificant (19 %), because the offender was below the age of criminal responsibility (14 %), because the offender admitted to his/her own guilt (10 %) or because the teacher did not want to cause any trouble for the offender (9 %). Furthermore, many teachers stated they refrained from filing a complaint because of the lack of support from their school management (9 %), because of the ordinariness of these acts (7 %), and because of doubts about the chances of success (6 %).

The survey also revealed that in case of psychological violence by parents only 65 % of teacher respondents decided to report the incident to their school management. The number of official complaints is even lower with only 2 % of respondent teachers having filed a complaint, even though the offender is an adult. 20 % stated that they took school internal measures to resolve the conflict as the offender admitted to his/her own guilt . Here again, many teachers refrained from filing a complaint because of doubts about the chances of success (11 %), because of the big effort it takes (10 %), and because of a lack of support by those in charge in following up with the complaints (8 %).

Teachers are well-informed about preventative measures – but these measures are often not reflected in education policies. For instance, even though 68 % of all respondents identify co-working in multi-professional teams as an important preventative measure, just 41 % work in such teams . 62 % of teachers stated that reasonable classroom sizes are important for the prevention of violence – while only 38 % teach in such. Furthermore, teachers stated that conversations among teachers (83 %), the development and implementation of a school code (82 %), cooperation with the police (79 %) and other external partners (58 %), and project weeks (61 %) could contribute to the prevention of violence against teachers.

The survey clearly showed that teachers are left alone with this problem and that there is a dire need to take action. After the publication of the survey, the Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft, launched a legislative initiative in the German Bundesrat with the aim to increase the penalty in cases of hostile behaviour towards public sector employees. The VBE supports this initiative and is actively involved in advocating for an improved legislative framework that contributes to the protection of teachers from physical and psychological violence.

Last modified on Friday, 17 March 2017

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Udo Beckmann

Udo Beckmann is a teacher since 1977, he was deputy head from 1990 to 1996 and principal of a secondary school in Dortmund, North Rhine-Westfalia, from 1996 to 2005. Since 1979, he is a member of VBE Verband Bildung and Erziehung, the second largest teacher union in Germany. Today, he is the federal chairman of the VBE.

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