The stabbing of supply teacher Vincent Uzomah in Bradford yesterday came less than 14 months after Ann Maguire was murdered in front of pupils at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds.
Mrs Maguire’s death, at the hands of 15-year-old Will Cornick in April 2014, was the first known case of a teacher being killed by a pupil in a British school.
Police, union and council officials were unanimous in their description of the tragedy as an isolated incident. Despite the universal sense of horror, there was little appetite for tighter security in schools.
Although the full facts of today’s incident are yet to be established, there are apparent echoes of the tragedy at Corpus Christi: a weapon being brought into school seemingly with the express intention of seriously injuring a member of staff; a teenage boy arrested; fellow pupils requiring counselling after witnessing events.
And, while senior investigator Detective Superintendent Simon Atkinson used the same description of the incident as “isolated”, there was a different tone to the reaction of some other commentators.
Ian Murch, national executive member and former Bradford official of the National Union of Teachers, drew parallels with the stabbing of Ann Maguire: “It’s deeply shocking. When Ann Maguire was killed in Leeds not much more than a year ago, people were able to say this is almost certainly an isolated incident. While this is extremely rare, it’s shocking that we have had two incidents in such a short space of time and we will have to think carefully about what anybody can do to avoid this sort of thing
“It’s not a matter of education – you wouldn’t think that people would need to be told that it’s wrong to do this. We may have to look at any appropriate security measures that might be taken. You can’t search every child going into school every day to see if they have a knife – that would be too prohibitive – but in particular circumstances, or in certain communities where knife crime is identified as an issue, we might have to look at that.”
Anastasia de Waal, chair of the parenting support charity Family Lives, also expressed concern at a perceived increase in violent incidents in schools.
She said: “Research seems to show there has been an upsurge in aggression and for teachers it is becoming increasingly difficult to cope with.”
Ms de Waal said it was necessary to look at the root causes of such violence and said a “level headed” approach was needed.
But she added: “There might be a case for greater security measures. On the other hand we know from precedent that it doesn’t always prevent people from bypassing that and bringing weapons into schools.
“We need to get to the heart of the issue.”
For all the understandable consternation when weapons are used in schools, the figures support the view that they remain rare.
According to West Yorkshire Police 21 children were found with weapons, including knives, hammers and knuckle dusters, in schools in the county between 2011 and 2013, the most recent period for which figures are available.
However, the stabbings of Ann Maguire and Vincent Uzomah – and the arrest of an 11-year-old in March over an alleged knife threat to a teacher at the King James’s School in Knaresborough – are stark reminders of the potential violence teachers face.
Nearly 60 per cent of staff in state schools questioned in a survey for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) last September said they had faced aggression in the previous 12 months.
Nearly half of those said they had been subjected to physical intimidation.
In one example, Pam Harris, a supply teacher from East Yorkshire, said: “A pupil emptied the contents of a syringe – it turned out to be water – in my face and ran off. The pupil was in school the next
day and wasn’t even asked to apologise.”
A spokeswoman for the ATL said yesterday that any incident was “one too many” but schools remained largely safe places to be.
She added: “We would be very reluctant to see increased security in schools. Schools shouldn’t be treated as dangerous places – they should be safe places for children. We don’t want children to have to be searched – it changes the whole relationship between pupils and staff. We wouldn’t want staff to be regarded as police.”