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School violence is widely held to have become a serious problem in recent decades in many countries, especially where weapons such as guns or knives are involved. It includes violence between school students as well as physical attacks by students on school staff.

International character of school violence


The Education Minister of the State of Queensland said in July 2009 that the rising levels of violence in schools were "totally unacceptable" and admitted that not enough had been done to combat violent behaviour. 55,000 students had been suspended in the state's schools in 2008, nearly a third of which were for "physical misconduct".[1]

In South Australia, 175 violent attacks against students or staff were recorded in 2008.[2]


A recent study found that violence experienced by teachers in francophone Belgium was a significant factor in decisions to leave the teaching profession.[3]


Following "numerous reports over the past decade about school violence", the Education Minister in 2009 introduced stricter regulations about student behaviour, including inappropriate dress, being drunk, and carrying mobile phones. Teachers were to be given new powers to punish disruptive students.[4]


The French Education Minister claimed in 2000 that 39 out of 75,000 state schools were "seriously violent" and 300 were "somewhat violent".[5]


A survey by the Education Ministry showed that students at public schools were involved in a record number of violent incidents in 2007—52,756 cases, an increase of some 8,000 on the previous year. In almost 7,000 of these incidents, teachers were the target of assault.[6]


In 2006, in response to the suicide of a girl after she was sexually molested in school, the Polish Minister of Education, Roman Giertych, launched a "zero tolerance" school reform.[7] Under this plan, teachers would have the legal status of civil servants, making violent crimes against them punishable by higher penalties. Head teachers (equivalent to principals in the US) will be, in theory, able to send aggressive pupils to perform community service and these students' parents may also be fined. Teachers who fail to report violent acts in school could face a prison sentence.[8]

South Africa

The South African Human Rights Commission has found that 40% of children interviewed said they had been the victims of crime at school. More than a fifth of sexual assaults on South African children were found to have taken place in schools. Exposure to domestic violence, gangsterism, and drugs have had a substantial impact on student performance.[9]

United Kingdom

A government inquiry in 1989[10] found that 2 per cent of teachers had reported facing physical aggression.[11] In 2007 a survey of 6,000 teachers by the teachers' trade union NASUWT found that over 16% claimed to have been physically assaulted by students in the previous two years.[12] On the basis of police statistics found through a Freedom of Information request, in 2007 there were more than 7,000 cases of the police being called to deal with violence in schools in England.[13]

In April 2009 another teachers' union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, released details of a survey of over 1,000 of its members which found that nearly one quarter of them had been on the receiving end of physical violence by a student.[14]

In Wales, a 2009 survey found that two-fifths of teachers reported having been assaulted in the classroom. 49% had been threatened with assault.[15]

United States

According to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, school violence is a serious problem.[16][17] In 2007, the latest year for which comprehensive data were available, a nationwide survey,[18] conducted biennially by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and involving representative samples of U.S. high school students, found that 5.9% of students carried a weapon (e.g. gun, knife, etc.) on school property during the 30 days antedating the survey. The rate was three times higher among males than among females. In the 12 months antedating the survey, 7.8% of high school students reported having been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property at least once, with the prevalence rate among males twice that as among females. In the 12 months antedating the survey, 12.4% of students had been in a physical fight on school property at least once. The rate among males was twice the rate found among females. In the 30 days antedating the survey, 5.5% of students reported that because they did not feel safe, they did not go to school on at least one day. The rates for males and females were approximately equal.

The most recent U.S. data[19] on violent crime in which teachers were targeted indicate that 7 percent (10 percent in urban schools) of teachers in 2003 were subject to threats of injury by students. Five percent of teachers in urban schools were physically attacked, with smaller percentages in suburban and rural schools. Other members of school staffs are also at risk for violent attack, with school bus drivers being particularly vulnerable.[20]

Risk factors

The individual child

Internalizing and externalizing behaviors

A distinction is made between internalizing and externalizing behavior. Internalizing behaviors reflect withdrawal, inhibition, anxiety, and/or depression. Internalizing behavior has been found in some cases of youth violence although in some youth, depression is associated with substance abuse. Because they rarely act out, students with internalizing problems are often overlooked by school personnel.[21] Externalizing behaviors refer to delinquent activities, aggression, and hyperactivity. Unlike internalizing behaviors, externalizing behaviors include, or are directly linked to, violent episodes. Violent behaviors such as punching and kicking are often learned from observing others.[22][23] Just as externalizing behaviors are observed outside of school, such behaviors also observed in schools.[21]

Other individual factors

A number of other individual factors are associated with higher levels of aggressiveness. Early starters have worse outcomes than children whose antisocial activities begin late.[24] Lower IQ is related to higher levels of aggressivity.[25][26][27] Other findings indicate that in boys early problematic motor skills, attentional difficulties, and reading problems predict later persistent antisocial conduct.[28]

Home environment

The home environment is thought to contribute to school violence. The Constitutional Rights Foundation suggests long-term exposure to gun violence, parental alcoholism, domestic violence, physical abuse of the child, and child sexual abuse teaches children that criminal and violent activities are acceptable.[29] Harsh parental discipline is associated with higher levels of aggressiveness in youth.[30] There is some evidence indicating that exposure to television violence[31][32] and, to a lesser extent, violent video games[33] is related to increased aggressiveness in children, which, in turn, may carry over into school.

Straus adduced evidence for the view that exposure to parental corporal punishment increases the risk of aggressive conduct in children and adolescents.[34] Straus's findings have been contested by Larzelere[35] and Baumrind.[36][37] A meta-analysis of the vast literature on corporal punishment, however, indicates that corporal punishment is related to poorer outcomes in children and youth.[38] The methodologically soundest studies indicate "positive, moderately sized associations between parental corporal punishment and children’s aggression."[39]

Gerald Patterson’s social interactional model, which involves the mother’s application and the child's counterapplication of coercive behaviors, also explains the development of aggressive conduct in the child.[40][41] In this context, coercive behaviors include behaviors that are ordinarily punishing (e.g., whining, yelling, hitting, etc.). Abusive home environments can inhibit the growth of social cognitive skills needed, for example, to understand the intentions of others.[29][42] Short-term longitudinal evidence is consistent with the view that a lack of social cognitive skills mediates the link between harsh parental discipline and aggressive conduct in kindergarten.[43] Longer-term, follow-up research with the same children suggests that partial mediating effects last until third and fourth grade.[42] Hirschi's (1969) control theory advances the view that children with weak affective ties to parents are at increased risk of engaging in delinquent and violent behavior in and out of school.[44] Hirschi's cross-sectional data from northern California high-school students are largely consistent with this view.[44] Findings from case-control[30] and longitudinal studies[45][46] are also consistent with this view.

Neighborhood environment

Neighborhoods and communities provide the context for school violence. Communities with high rates of crime and drug use teach youth the violent behaviors that are carried into schools.[29][47][48] Dilapidated housing in the neighborhood of the school has been found to be associated with school violence.[49] Teacher assault was more likely to occur in schools located in high-crime neighborhoods.[50] Exposure to deviant peers is a risk factor for high levels of aggressivity.[23][27] Research has shown that poverty and high population densities are associated with higher rates of school violence.[47] Well controlled longitudinal research indicates that children's exposure to community violence during the early elementary school years increases the risk of aggression later in elementary school, as reported by teachers and classmates.[51] Other, well controlled longitudinal research that utilized propensity score analyses indicates that exposure gun violence in early adolescence is related to the initiation of serious physical violence in later adolescence.[52] Neighborhood gangs are thought to contribute to dangerous school environments. Gangs use the social environment of the school to recruit members and interact with opposing groups, with gang violence carrying over from neighborhoods into some schools.[53]

School environment

Recent research has linked the school environment to school violence.[49][54] Teacher assaults are associated with a higher percentage male faculty, a higher proportion of male students, and a higher proportion of students receiving free or reduced cost lunch (an indicator of poverty).[50] In general, a large male population, higher grade levels, a history of high levels of disciplinary problems in the school, high student to teacher ratios, and an urban location are related to violence in schools.[49][55] In students, academic performance is inversely related to antisocial conduct.[17][25] The research by Hirschi[44] and others,[30][45][46] cited above in the section on the home environment, is also consistent with the view that lack of attachment to school is associated with increased risk of antisocial conduct.


Lax school authorities

In 2005 on a school bus in Montgomery County, Maryland, an 11-year old girl was attacked by a group of students who forcefully penetrated her with an object.[56] The child's mother, not the school, called the police, although a school administrator did notify the girl's mother (the students were not charged with sexual assault because the police mishandled the paperwork). In 2008, the Baltimore School District failed to intervene in an act of violence committed against a teacher. A student had taken a video of a peer beating her art teacher. School officials ignored the problem until the video was posted on MySpace.[57] Some cases of school violence have not been brought to the attention of the authorities because school administrators have not wanted their schools labeled "unsafe" under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.[56] With or without NCLB, in the US, there has been a history of underreporting violent incidents occurring in schools.[58][59][60]

The media

School shootings are rare and unusual forms of school violence. School shootings are accountable for less than 1% of violent crimes in public schools, with an average of 16.5 deaths per year from 2001-2008.[17] Some commentators claim that media coverage encourages school violence,[61] although a more likely explanation is that the reporting follows the events in question. On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech before committing suicide.[62] Possibly because of extensive media coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy, several students across the US committed violent offenses or threatened to do so in their schools. On the other hand, the press would likely have been faulted if it did not cover serious threats to public safety like the Virginia Tech and Columbine massacres.

Prevention and intervention

The goal of prevention and intervention strategies is to stop school violence from occurring. According to the CDC, there are at least four levels at which violence-prevention programs can act: society in general, the school community, the family, and the individual.[63]

  • Society-level prevention strategies aim to change social and cultural conditions in order to reduce violence regardless of where the violence occurs. Examples include reducing media violence, reshaping social norms, and restructuring educational systems.[17] The strategies are rarely used and difficult to implement.
  • School-wide strategies are designed to modify the school characteristics that are associated with violence. An avenue of psychological research is the reduction of violence and incivility, particularly the development of interventions at the level of the school.[64][65] The CDC suggests schools promote classroom management techniques, cooperative learning, and close student supervision.[17][66] At the elementary school level, the group behavioral intervention known as the Good Behavior Game helps reduce classroom disruption and promotes prosocial classroom interactions.[67][68] There is some evidence that the Second Step curriculum, which is concerned with promoting impulse control and empathy among second and third graders, produces reductions in physically aggressive behavior.[69] Other school-wide strategies are aimed at reducing or eliminating bullying[70][71][72][73] and organizing the local police to better combat gang violence.[74] Research, however, suggests that the idea of creating a school-wide early-warning system, the school equivalent of a DEW Line-like surveillance operation designed to "prevent the worst cases of school violence," is problematic.[58] Violence-prevention efforts can be more usefully directed at developing anti-bullying programs, helping teachers with classroom-management strategies, applying behavioral strategies such as the Good Behavior Game, implementing curricular innovations such as the Second Step syllabus, developing programs to strengthen families (see below), and implementing programs aimed at enhancing the social and academic skills of at-risk students (see below).
  • Some intervention programs are aimed at improving family relationships.[17] There is some evidence that such intervention strategies have modest effects on the behavior of children in the short[75][76] and long term.[77] Patterson's home intervention program involving mothers has been shown to reduce aggressive conduct in children.[40] An important question concerns the extent to which the influence of the program carries over into the child's conduct in school.
  • Some prevention and intervention programs focus on individual-level strategies. These programs are aimed at students who exhibit aggression and violent behaviors or are at risk for engaging in such behaviors. Some programs include conflict resolution and team problem-solving.[17] Other programs teach students social skills.[78] The Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, while developing and implementing a universal anti-aggression component for all elementary school children, also developed and implemented a separate social-skills and academic tutoring component that targets children who are the most at risk for engaging in aggressive behavior.[79][80].

See also


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