Staff and students have suffered serious injuries as a result of offensive weapons being brought into colleges, according to a UNISON survey published today (Tuesday).

Machetes, hammers, metal bars and even a gun are among the items either recovered or that have been used in pupil-on-pupil assaults, gang attacks or in violent incidents against staff, according to the survey.

UNISON questioned hundreds of support staff, including canteen workers, learning support assistants and librarians, in both further education and sixth form colleges across the UK. 

The vast majority (90%) of respondents said they had received no training on dealing with teenagers who bring weapons into college. Almost a quarter (23%) felt weapon-related crime is a problem where they work, and a growing one in some cases.

Serious incidents described by survey respondents include: 

  • Gang members armed with hammers chasing a 17-year-old student through a college. A male and female support worker had to act as human shields between the teenager and his assailants until security and police arrived
  • A student dying from fatal chest wounds after being stabbed outside college
  • Armed police were called after a student brought a gun onto campus

Some of the staff who responded had actually been injured by a weapon that had been brought into college, while many others knew colleagues who had been harmed in incidents. Overall, one in five respondents (20%) admitted they didn’t feel safe at work. 

The responses present a worrying picture about levels of safety and security for staff and students, says UNISON. The union wants colleges to provide proper training to deal with weapons found on campus, for every member of staff.

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said:

“Budget cuts, rising knife crime and the closure of youth centres means college support staff are having to put themselves in harm’s way to ensure the safety of other students.

“It’s no accident that as spending on youth services has dropped, teenage crime levels have rocketed. A joined-up response from police, youth support services and colleges is the only way to turn youngsters away from crime – it shouldn’t fall to college support staff to pick up the pieces.” 

The survey was live from March to April 2019 with 845 support staff taking part. 

A motion on knife crime and cuts to youth services will be debated at UNISON’s local government conference, which takes places at the weekend in Liverpool.

UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors. 

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