The survey data was misinterpreted by ICTU. 1 in 10 of those surveyed experience physical abuse at least once weekly.

Are one in five school staff assaulted once a week?

A headline in the Belfast News Letter of 21 March 2019 states “One in five school staff assaulted once a week in Northern Ireland” (sic). The newspaper reported the findings of a survey of education workers by the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Committee of Trade Unions (ICTU) Education Group.

During October 2018, 1,427 members of the ten trade unions affiliated with ICTU were surveyed: 1,133 teaching union members and 294 members of support staff unions.

ICTU’s press release states that “1 on 5 receive physical abuse ONCE a WEEK” (sic).

The press statement quotes Denise Walker, the Chair of the Education Group:

“If you work in one of Northern Ireland’s schools in a support role you could be one of the 51% who have been subjected to a physical incident at work. 43% of whom reported having been a victim of physical violence weekly”.

43% of the 728 who responded as being subject to any physical incident would indeed mean that 22% of all surveyed members (1,427 respondents) experience violence or physical abuse weekly.

However, the document presenting the survey results reveals different figures. 46.4% of respondents (665 out of 1,427) had experienced any violence or physical abuse, rather than Walker’s press release figure of 51%. And out of the 665 respondents who had experienced any violence or physical abuse, the document reports that 21.6% of them (instead of the 43% figure quoted in the press release) said that they are experiencing such abuse at least once a week.

These full results reveal that 10% of those surveyed (144 out of 1,427) are experiencing violence or physical abuse on a weekly basis. The “1 in 5” claim only refers to people who had ever experienced such abuse.

The results also show that 53.6% of school staff surveyed have never experienced violence or physical abuse.


The ICTU inaccurately presented the findings of its education workers survey in their press release. As a consequence, it was misreported by the Belfast News Letter. The survey found that 1 in 10, rather than the claimed 1 in 5, of education workers experience physical abuse at least once a week.

Image: Photo by Alexander RATHS used by license

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