Teacher faces ruin after assault case

A TEACHER'S career lies in tatters today after he was convicted of assaulting two students who were behind a prolonged campaign of abuse against him.

However, a sheriff sympathised with Mike Barile, 51, who he said had suffered "extreme abuse" from the schoolboys, who had acted "disgracefully".

Barile's patience finally snapped when pupils at Lawside Academy in Dundee called him a "walking penis" and told him to "f*** off". The maths teacher grabbed one of them by the lapels and threatened to throw him through the blackboard. He also pinned a 15-year-old boy against a wall.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Barile, an associate director of Dundee United Football Club, was acquitted on two other charges of assaulting pupils. A further assault charge was not proven.

While he was found to be technically guilty of two assault charges, Sheriff Charles Macnair said: "Both of these assaults were minor and, had it not been for your position as a teacher, I do not consider that you would have been subject to criminal prosecution.

"I do accept that, on the two occasions, you were subject to extreme abuse by the two young men. The force you used was minimal and I take into account that this is going to have a very serious impact on your future career as a teacher.

"Having regard to the behaviour of the two complainants leading up to the offences, and your previously good record, at least since 1999, I consider that it would be appropriate to deal with you by way of admonition."

During the trial, one of the pupils told how Barile had grabbed him by his jumper and threatened to throw him "through the blackboard".

The second assault came as a student tried to leave class, despite Barile asking him to stay behind. As the boy went to walk out of the door, Barile put his forearm across the boy's chest and pinned him against a wall.

Gavin Callaghan, prosecuting, said teachers had no right to use physical force to control pupils. "Disgraceful conduct by pupils does in no way justify the conduct by the accused in this case," he said.

"The actions of the accused were grossly disproportionate and amounted to assault."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

However, teachers' unions last night described some classrooms as "horrific" places where pupils conspired to goad staff into wrongdoing.

Ann Ballinger, president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said: "There are situations in some schools where there are definitely difficulties and violent situations, but, equally, there are schools where this never happens.

"Young people are very aware of their rights these days and if you get a pupil who has a tendency towards violence, they will know what they are entitled to and they will say 'you can't touch me because I have rights'.

"I would say there is a small minority of situations where violence is used against a teacher.

"It is horrific, because it is violence in the workplace and there is nothing you can do. You can't even put your hand up to defend yourself, because you could be accused of violence. If a group of pupils go against a particular member of staff, they can make their life an absolute misery and that can escalate."

Hugh Reilly, a secondary school teacher in Glasgow, said classroom teachers were often frustrated by the lack of action against violent pupils by school managements.

He said: "The kids pick up on the fact that not much happens to them. The majority know school managements typically go for a softly-softly approach and the kids don't see a consequence of their actions.

"It is much easier for younger teachers to be involved in this sort of thing, but you just learn you cannot control the way these kids behave."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He said the kind of behaviour experienced by Barile had always occurred, but was still rare.

"It's more the low-level stuff, like constant chatter, which is a growing problem," he said. "Years ago, the belt would have stopped that.

"One of the dangers is when you are getting closer to pupils in that way, some can see that as a teacher being a soft touch. Lots of us could be in his position."

Physical attacks on teachers and pupils in Scotland rose by 2.2 per cent between 2005-6 and 2006-7.

Any teacher convicted of a criminal offence is automatically referred to the profession's regulator, the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

They will then be subject to a hearing on whether they retain their status or are struck off the teaching register. Only in very rare circumstances would a convicted teacher be able to stay on the register. And that is very unlikely in a case of a teacher found guilty of assaulting pupils.

A spokesman for the teaching council said: "Where teachers are convicted with a criminal offence, this is reported to the council and considered within the disciplinary process."

In 2006, Barile was suspended from his teaching post at Madras College in St Andrews amid allegations of assaulting a pupil.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The suspension was later lifted after claims that Barile, of Strathmartine Road, Dundee, had been attacked by the pupil.

The assaults at the Dundee school took place in October last year and in May. Barile's career at the school – it has since been merged with St Saviour's High to become St Paul's Academy – appears to be over.

Andrew Gibb, defending, said: "The consequences are really rather serious. He is currently suspended and no doubt that will remain so."

A spokesman for Dundee City Council's education department said: "This teacher is currently suspended and Dundee City Council will now take appropriate action within its agreed procedures for dealing with disciplinary matters."

Last night, Barile said he could not comment, as he was planning to appeal the conviction.

This is not the first time there have been reports of violence in Dundee schools.

In September 2007, Linda Ross, the deputy head of Sidlaw View Primary, was suspended after her husband leaked reports of drug addicts wandering the corridors and of fights between parents.

'After a verdict like that, it will be open season for them, knowing they can bait a teacher'

Emily Pykett

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

THEY smirked when asked if they had respect for their teachers.

"A bunch of cocky classroom clowns" is how one bystander described the pupils giving evidence at Dundee Sheriff Court.

They knew their "rights", and they knew that by sitting in Dundee Sheriff Court giving evidence against their teacher, they had scored a victory of sorts.

All the teenagers had a defiant demeanour as they told how they finally goaded Mike Barile into action when he grabbed a pupil by his lapels and threatened to throw him through a blackboard.

One 15-year-old – who had previously been suspended for assaulting Barile in the school library – admitted he had been "messing around" and "showing off" in the class, did not do what he was told and was abusive to the teacher.

He said he did not respect teachers and admitted he had been playing to the gallery, with most of the class laughing and enjoying the "intimidation" to which Barile was subjected.

The court heard how Barile tried to write a diary of his ordeal but the pupils would snatch the paper off his desk. They argued it was "their right'" to see what he was writing

Some would watch videos on YouTube when they should have been doing maths.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

They would refuse to go to their desks when they were asked to work, and routinely shout abuse at him such as "walking penis", "beast" and "bam".

One pupil would complain it was too hot, and, when Barile opened a window, the pupil would complain it was too cold.

But, as the cross-examining grew tougher, they became anxious and changed their stories.

Barile, 51, pleaded not guilty to terrorising his pupils by grabbing them by their school uniforms, pushing them off their chairs and pinning them against walls.

After he was convicted, however, community leaders said they feared the pupils had been ganging up on the teacher.

One Dundee city councillor, who asked not to be named, said: "It is almost as if they were hunting in a pack.

"After a verdict like that, I would be worried about the pupils now going back and saying, 'Who's next?'

"It will be open season for them now, knowing they can bait a teacher like that.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"It's not like that in most schools in Dundee but there is the odd occasion that they go all-out to get a teacher. To me, it looks like they were just out to get him."

Judith Gillespie, of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, agreed that pupils are capable of targeting teachers they feel are vulnerable.

"Yes, there are pupils who provoke and there are definitely pupils who do sense when people are not secure and exploit it," she said.

"But the bottom line is the teacher should never allow themselves to be goaded so they step out of their professional role and neither should a teacher feel frightened to say that they can't manage a class. And if they cannot manage a class then steps should be taken to help them through it."

Mrs Gillespie added: "Maybe teaching as a profession is just not for him.

"But I do not believe all this abuse happened in just the one lesson.

"It must have been prolonged, and therefore he should have been able to seek support for what was going on."

Analysis: Problem of discipline is getting worse

Ronnie Smith

ALTHOUGH we do not comment on individual cases, the issue of pupil indiscipline is seldom far below the surface of the educational debate in Scotland. Teachers continue to regard how to solve it as a top priority.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Of course, there has never been a time when the behaviour of children and young people did not exercise the minds of teachers. However, the evidence is that the problem is getting worse and consuming more and more of each teacher's time.

Ask any teacher across Scotland about the most challenging part of their job, and you will receive near unanimity on the answer – the daily grind of maintaining effective discipline in the classroom.

Persistent, low-level indiscipline, the most common problem in Scotland's schools, is extremely frustrating for teachers and also for the vast majority of pupils who are keen to learn.

The actions of a small minority of pupils, who selfishly disrupt classes with poor behaviour, can have a hugely damaging effect on the learning environment of fellow pupils.

This is an issue which must be addressed, if we are to deliver the best learning environment and the quality of education our children deserve.

Schools reflect societal change, and many of the children we teach have increasingly complex lives in which they often communicate their personal difficulties through challenging behaviour.

The policies of inclusion and the presumption of "mainstreaming" have also presented new challenges for teachers.

These require teachers to be more reflective about teaching and learning, but also call into question the level of support they receive from school managements, local authorities and the Scottish Government.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Teachers should have the right to teach and young people have the right to learn in a safe, disciplined environment, and it is the responsibility of the Scottish Government and local authorities to meet those requirements. The Scottish Government should provide, as a matter of urgency, additional specialist behaviour facilities for children and young people displaying particularly challenging behaviour.

The EIS (the Educational Institute of Scotland] remains firm in its strong commitment to the reduction in class sizes in all sectors as an important means of supporting better behaviour and discipline.

Current government targets to reduce class sizes are not being met by local authorities, and this is compounding the challenges of maintaining classroom discipline.

Headteachers should continue to have the right to use exclusion where appropriate. The EIS acknowledges alternatives to exclusion and the work being carried out in promoting and funding innovative solutions. However, the impact of such innovations may take many years to become real or apparent, which is of little comfort to the teacher facing daily disruption in the classroom.

There are no simple solutions, no "silver bullet" which will solve all of the problems of pupil indiscipline.

Where schools have had success in tackling indiscipline, they have had clear and concise discipline policies which have been consistently applied.

It is these principles we wish to see applied at local authority and school level and, combined with additional resources, we believe we can reach our common goal of achieving better behaviour in all of our schools.

• Ronnie Smith is general- secretary of the EIS, Scotland's largest teaching union.

Related topics: