School violence in Fife: another spike as over 3500 violent incidents reported
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Data isn’t available for the whole of 2023, but violent incidents have already surpassed last year's total. The latest figures were discussed at Fife’s education scrutiny committee on Tuesday morning. Councillors spent 90 minutes scrutinising the latest relationships and behaviours report from Shelagh McLean, head of education and children’s services.
In 2017, Fife school staff reported 1,221 violent incidents. That number slowly increased each year until the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted business-as-usual in 2020.
Post-pandemic, violent incidents have spiked. In 2022, school staff reported a total of 2,985 incidents, and the number has once again grown this year.
So far in 2023, Fife school staff have reported 3,637 violent incidents - 2,788 were recorded as physical; 698 were verbal incidents of violence, aggression or threat. Since January, headteachers have reported 30 “serious” incidents of violence and aggression.
“Since this was last discussed in March, we have continued to see year on year increases in violent incidents which is obviously really concerning,” Councillor James Calder (Lib-Dem for Dunfermline South) said. “There’s a sense of feeling that things are perhaps getting a little out of control here.”
Ms McLean acknowledged that the number of violent incidents have increased year on year, but suggested that the growing figure is at least partially tied to improved reporting systems.
“In terms of year on year increases, we recognise there are a number of reasons. We have a robust system of reporting which we have improved further since March,” she said. “From our discussions nationally, including discussions with trade unions, we’re probably one of the only local authorities with such a robust mechanism for reporting. It’s one of the reasons, but it’s not the only reason."
Convener, Councillor Kathleen Leslie (Conservative for Burntisland, Kinghorn and Western Kirkcaldy) emphasised that the growing behaviour issue is a national problem.
“A lot of it came about because of the disconnect with education during the pandemic and there's no easy solution,” she said. “We know that teachers and school communities across Scotland are concerned about the increase in violent incidents in schools and it’s something we’re taking very seriously.”
> What is Fife Council doing?
Behind the scenes the council is working hard to set things straight.
“It’s very much a priority piece of work and it’s talked about at every session we have across the organisation with our headteachers and school leaders,” Ms McLean said.
Her committee report continued: “In taking a proactive approach to supporting our children and young people it is essential that we recognise there is no silver bullet, quick fix or magical resource which will improve relationships, wellbeing and behaviour in our settings overnight. Changing behaviours, systems, ethos and culture takes time, especially if we want sustainability.”
Earlier this month, Cabinet Committee councillors agreed to allow a nascent anti-bullying policy to be rolled out across all schools. It will provide overarching guidelines and structure to help individual schools develop their own local policy.
“Schools are trying to put in more pupil support assistance time and they’re updating personal and social education to ensure everyone is clear on behaviour that’s acceptable and unacceptable,” Cllr Leslie added.
She said the council is focused on working with school communities, trade unions and families to promote positive student behaviour and de-escalate situations. Targeted support is given to schools when and where it is needed. A multi-agency working group - including representatives from Police Scotland, NHS Fife, and the Health and Social Care Partnership - has also met regularly over the last few months to discuss support for school staff and students.
A number of programmes, practices and actions have already come out of those discussions. For example, the council is piloting a programme to base a social worker in secondary schools to work with young people who need extra support. The council is also aiming to recruit more full-time guidance staff and there is an increasing focus on out of school "distraction" activities for young people - especially in communities with high levels of crime for those under 16.
Cllr Leslie continued: “I would personally like to reassure parents and carers across Fife that the safety and wellbeing of all our children and staff is a priority. We are working hard and we will continue to work with all our school communities to make sure our staff and young people have a positive experience at school.”