One in ten head teachers has been physically attacked

More than one in ten school head teachers have been physically assaulted by a parent or carer of a pupil at their school, according to figures recently released.

Incidents include being punched, kicked, spat on, head-butted, bitten, attacked with chairs and tables and sexually assaulted.

Respondents said they had suffered verbal abuse or threats from a parent in the last five years. One in five (20%) said they had been victimised on a social networking site and more than 68% say parents’ behavior towards teachers has worsened over time. Head teachers said in some cases parents have turned up at school drunk or high on drugs.

Policy makers need to be aware that school leaders are not faceless bureaucrats who must be exposed to the public to help them ‘shape up’. They live and work in the cities, towns and villages that they serve. They meet parents daily inside and outside school, and they are instantly recognisable. Alone, in the school car park after a late governors’ meeting, parental pressure can take on a new meaning.

“The vast majority of families are a pleasure to work with, but not all. Emotions run high when children are involved. School leaders often have to make difficult decisions about discipline, exclusions, holidays and the distribution of limited budgets. Many come under unacceptable pressure designed to effect undue influence on them. All are dedicated to doing what is best for the children in their care. Some pay a high personal cost for this dedication.

Every now and again, someone tries to whip up indignation about heads’ salaries. This usually falls flat, because people recognise both the difficulty and the importance of the work they do. We’re comfortable with some forms of transparency on pay, because we know there is nothing to hide, but let’s think carefully about how this will play out in reality. It’s hard enough to get people to do the job as it is without subjecting them to further abuse from a small minority of ill-informed and ill-disciplined parents.”

A Department for Education spokesperson has commented: “Violence against staff by parents or pupils is completely unacceptable. A physical assault against a teacher is a criminal offence and we support schools in working with the police to take firm action where needed.”

The news follows research published by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers last week which found that around a quarter of those surveyed said they had been bullied by another member of staff. Of those who felt they had been bullied, half said it was by a senior member of staff, compared with 25% by pupils and 23% by parents.

Company fined after Crawley employee paralysed

A Hertfordshire-based electrical company has been fined £120,000 after a man was left paralysed when he was knocked from a scissor lift.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Skanska Rashleigh Weatherfoil Ltd after the incident happened on the 25 January 2007 at Manor Royal Industrial Park in Crawley.

Lewes Crown Court heard the company had been subcontracted to design and build the mechanical and electrical systems in a number of new buildings.

A cable installer, who does not want to be named, was working in a scissor lift with two colleagues tying cables into overhead trays when they collapsed, knocking the man out of the lift and causing him to fall eight metres to the floor below.

The man, from Hartlepool, suffered severe spinal injuries and is now paralysed from the waist down. HSE told the court that Skanska Rashleigh Weatherfoil Ltd had failed to ensure the safety of its employees while carrying out the installation of the cable tray systems.

Skanska Rashleigh Weatherfoil Ltd admitted breaching section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined a total of £120,000 with full costs of £81,927.

After the hearing the HSE commented “This tragic incident would have been avoided if the company had ensured all parts of the cable tray system had been properly designed and installed, including how it was attached to the building.

“During installation, when components were failing or showing signs of failure, Skanska took no action. “When construction work is subcontracted, whether it’s design or installation work, it is essential companies have adequate systems in place to manage this effectively.

“The fine reflects the seriousness of the omissions by this company. Skanska Rashleigh Weatherfoil Ltd employed people to do highly hazardous work and yet failed to take the appropriate steps to ensure their safety.

“It is essential that employers consider all aspects of difficult and dangerous work; health and safety is not just a phrase, it is a considered approach to protecting people in the workplace.”

Landlord given 6 month suspended sentence

A landlord has been given a six-month suspended prison sentence for allowing a tenant to live without hot water or heating for two years.

Coventry Magistrates’ court heard that Steven Boote, 40, who owns 45 rental properties, failed to carry out annual gas-safety inspections at a house in Rothesay Avenue, Tile Hill, Coventry, during the five years that he owned the property.

David Whorlow, who had lived there all his life, had repeatedly complained to Boote that the property had no heating or hot water since 2007. Mr Whorlow made a complaint in June 2009 to Coventry City Council, which pays his rent, and it sent a member of its housing service department to visit the property.

The Council found the house had severe damp and mould, electrical hazards and inadequate cooking facilities. Officers immediately issued an Improvement Notice to Boote, which required him to make the relevant improvements to the house to make it habitable. It subsequently contacted the HSE, as it believed the property did not have any gas-safety certificates.

The HSE visited the property and issued an Improvement Notice on 8 September 2009, instructing Boote to present gas-safety certificates. It also arranged for a gas engineer to inspect two gas fires at the house, which were subsequently condemned.

An HSE inspector revealed that Boote failed to provide any evidence that he was in possession of a gas-safety certificate and subsequently failed to attend a PACE interview. Mr Boote completely disregarded the warnings about the state of his property – and showed an appalling lack of concern for the safety of his tenant. All he seemed to care about was money.

“All landlords must have a valid gas-safety certificate in place. A gas leak or faulty appliance can cause an explosion, or lead to carbon-monoxide poisoning, potentially killing their tenants.

“Tenants have the right to check the gas certification when they move in to rented accommodation. Landlords have an obligation to make the certificates freely available to tenants who ask for them, and, if they don’t, they should be reported to the authorities.”

Following a two-day trial in April, Boote was found guilty of breaching reg.33(1)(g) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, for ignoring an Improvement Notice, and reg.36(3) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, for failing to carry out annual gas-safety checks. On 5 May, he was sentenced to six months in prison, which was suspended for one year, plus 200 hours’ community service. He was also ordered to pay £30,000 in costs.

In mitigation, Boote said he was not residing at an address in Nuneaton at the time when legal notices were served, and that he had been refused access by Mr Whorlow to carry out remedial works.

Landlord given suspended prison sentence for fire safety failures

A residential landlord has been given a suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay more than £10,000 in costs after pleading guilty to four breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Inderjit Singh was given a six month sentence to be served concurrently on each of the four offences, suspended for 18 months. He had previously pleaded guilty to the offences at a hearing in March 2011 at Harrow Crown Court.

Following a fire in March 2009 at a house in multiple occupation in Hayes, west London, investigators found there were no fire alarms or detection in the common areas of the property, inadequate fire doors and that no fire risk assessment had been carried out.

In the nine month period leading up to the fire, Hillingdon Council had contacted Mr Singh about fire safety and general improvements to the property, according to London Fire Brigade.

“This verdict sends out a clear message that if landlords ignore fire safety then they will face serious penalties,” said Steve Turek, assistant commissioner for fire safety regulation. “Mr. Singh was given plenty of time to improve fire safety inside the property but failed to comply.

Arson church launches legal battle over fire alarms that were disabled

A church that was badly damaged by a fire that started in a neighbouring property has launched a legal battle over the alleged negligence of the management of fire alarms.

In 2008 a fire that started at a hostel in Shepherd’s Bush, London, spread to the nearby century-old Shepherd’s Bush Tabernacle church and almost completely destroyed its roof. Fire alarms at the hostel were allegedly repeatedly silenced by one of the residents.

The owners of the church, the Great Commission Ministry, have now launched a legal battle with The Carr Gomm Society, the charity that runs the hostel.

It claims the charity sublet bedrooms in the hostel to people who had a history of substance abuse, mental health issues and self-harming. It says the charity was “negligent” as it failed to make sure that the alarm system was secure.

Following the fire, resident Jennifer Morrow was found guilty of deliberately setting fire to the building. A High Court writ served by the church states that another resident silenced the alarm when it went off at 6.40 am on July 29. A short while later, three further smoke detectors sounded the alarm again. The writ says that within 15 minutes the same resident had tried five times to shut off the alarm, only stopping when he was told a blaze had actually broken out.

Ms Morrow, 36, pleaded guilty at Blackfriars Crown Court to arson and sentenced to a two-year supervision order and alcohol treatment programme.