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One in 10 teachers face violence in schools, some learn self-defence

Over 100 teachers had to take long sick leave due to violent student behaviour last year.

Itsepuolustuskoulutusta opettajille Ylöjärvellä.
An increasing number of schools are organising self-defense training for teachers. Image: Marko Melto / Yle

One in 10 teachers in Finland experienced violence at work last year. There were 400 cases of violence reported in early childhood education and 650 in comprehensive schools. These figures come from the Trade Union of Education in Finland’s (OAJ) working life barometer's preliminary data.

An increasing number of teachers in Finland have begun taking self-defence courses to protect themselves from violent situations in school, observes self-defence instructor Janne Ahonen.

"Due to a few larger acts of violence and disorderly conduct of pupils on a frequent basis, educational institutions have been increasingly organising self-defence and threat training for school teachers and directors," Ahonen said.

The OAJ survey revealed that three out of four teachers felt that training helped them manage violent situations.

School violence led to long sick leaves

The number of teachers on sick leave as a result of violent acts at work has increased over the last two years. Nine percent of teachers who were the target of violence were on sick leave last year, compared to five percent in 2017.

The perpetrators of violence are usually pupils and very rarely custodians or colleagues, reveals OAJ researcher Vesa Ilves.

"I would describe situations of violence mainly as those where a raging child is restrained to prevent self-harm or to protect others. In such situations, the principal or the director of the daycare has to also assist or intervene," Ilves said.

Of last year's cases, 100-150 resulted in a lengthy sick leave of one to two months.

"Longer sick leaves have been observed in comprehensive schools — perhaps, the situations turn more serious as the students are stronger. If the aggressive student is not provided with sufficient support and remains in the same classroom, the teacher may suffer from mental strain after returning from sick leave," Ilves said.

Self-defence to handle aggressive situations

The act of restraining a student should be safe for both the teacher and the student, said Ahonen, who has been offering 'use of force' training for 20 years.

"We practice safely approaching, holding back and removing an aggressive student from the classroom."

Story continues after photo.

Itsepuolustuskoulutusta opettajille Ylöjärvellä
Instructor Janne Ahonen (left) trains teachers to handle violent situations. Marko Melto / Yle Image: Marko Melto / Yle

According to Ahonen, the use of drugs as one of the possible reasons for the increase in violent behaviour among students.

Researcher Ilves adds that the integration of special needs pupils into the classroom may increase exposure to violence if adequate support measures are not provided.

Though a headmaster or teacher has the right to remove a violent student from the classroom to ensure safety, the situation must be handled delicately, according to Päivi Anttila, assistant principal of the Kauraslampi school in Ylöjärvi, who had to dodge a flying object thrown her way a few years ago.

"We have to be very careful about the legalities of what action we are allowed to take. Excessive use of force is strictly prohibited. We aim to use the gentlest of grips possible," Antilla said.

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