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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
17 January 2024
The kids are not alright

In 2022 there were 15,000 incidents of violence reported in schools | Alamy

The kids are not alright

Violence between young people is not a new phenomenon. Classrooms, sporting events, local parks have long been arenas for such behaviour. But the number of incidents appears to be increasing. 

Only two days into the new year, a shocking video was posted online showing a disabled 18-year-old who had been sitting at a bus stop in Dunfermline allegedly being punched and kicked by a group of mostly school-age teenagers. It is also alleged his hearing aid was broken during the incident. 

The victim was rushed to hospital and in the days that followed five boys aged between 14 and 17 were charged, along with a 20-year-old man, in relation to the incident. 

It serves as a sobering reminder of the sharp uptick of violence in schools that was highlighted last year following a slew of videos showing violence between young people, mostly filmed in and around school settings. 

Statistics indicate that incidents of violence between school-age children are on the rise. Findings by the Behaviour in Scottish Schools Research (BISSR) released in November 2023 showed that 59 per cent of teachers and school support workers had dealt with physical aggression between students, while 43 per cent had experienced physical violence between pupils in the classroom within seven days of responding to the survey. It concluded that these incidents had risen significantly since 2016. 

Freedom of Information requests revealed that in 2022 there were 15,000 incidents of violence reported in schools – 10,852 of which were in primary schools. But the true figure is likely to be higher as Glasgow and South Ayrshire did not provide data.

Many teachers have expressed that they do not have the tools they need to respond to worsening behaviour, with permanent exclusions seemingly no longer a viable option.

It’s seven years since I left school and I remember some pretty extreme instances of violence. One boy was punched so many times swelling completely covered his eyeball and a large deep red blotch remained on the white of his eye for months after; another boy had his head held out on the road with the twisted hope a bus would hit him, as well as quite a few mass brawls in underpasses after last bell of the day. 

We failed at cutting this behaviour out then and I don’t have huge confidence we’ll succeed at tackling the issue now. 

I struggle to believe the kind of arguments that lead to violence have changed drastically in seven years. Incidents are certainly more visible now, and maybe there is some form of social currency involved in sharing such content on social media. That must be addressed. 

Lockdowns and restrictions have clearly had an effect on Scotland’s kids, and while they were at home, a lot of their day will have been spent on social media, a place that so often brings out the worst in us. Marry that overexposure with worsening poverty during the cost-of-living crisis and you may have a hypothesis, but I think it would be unwise to lay blame entirely down to that. I would warn against blaming failings on single events like the pandemic, which we have a tendency to do in this country. The simple fact is these incidents have been increasing for a number of years. 

If there is any silver lining, it is that the videos have renewed calls to address the issue of violence in schools. And it’s time we make a concerted effort to understand and address the issue before these children become adults. 

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