A special needs teaching assistant from Plymouth who was assaulted after being threatened by a student on multiple occasions has received compensation, with help from UNISON and Thompsons Solicitors.

Andrea McGowan, who teaches students with autistic spectrum conditions, suffered a back and neck injury after being put in a headlock by a student she had reprimanded for bad behaviour.

Just months earlier, the 47-year-old had raised concerns to the head teacher about the same student, after he threatened to kill her several times. Despite this, Andrea had to continue to teach the student whose threats persisted, including just days before she was assaulted.

“Work became very difficult for me,” said Andrea. “I told senior staff that the student needed mental health support and I didn’t feel safe around him, but they turned a blind eye. I didn’t want to leave, as I knew the other students needed continuity, but the repeated abuse became unbearable.”

Andrea McGowan, who suffered injuries after she was assaulted by a student

Andrea ending up having to leave her job in July 2015, having struggled to keep working for two years after first reporting the threats, and the assault which followed, to her head teacher. She needed psychological support and was on antidepressants.

She turned to her union, UNISON, and Thompsons Solicitors for legal guidance. After a three-and-a-half year legal battle and two days in court, a compensation package was secured.

Andrea is a dedicated professional who has given years of support to the most challenging pupils. Had her employers listened and acted on her legitimate safety fears, her whole ordeal could have been avoided.

Clare Nash, Thompsons Solicitors

Andrea said: “I still have flashbacks to the threats and assault even now, years later. No one seemed to care about me until I spoke with my union. They explained that I was not on my own and they had legal experts who could help me make a claim. Without this support, I don’t know what I would have done.

"It was never about the compensation. I wanted to highlight the difficulties teaching assistants can face and prevent this from happening to others in similar circumstances. Hopefully this will educate my ex-school, and schools in general, to listen and support their employees, instead of ignoring them.”

UNISON South West regional secretary Joanne Kaye said: “Andrea’s experiences emphasise why unions remain vital to safeguard the interests of workers throughout the UK. UNISON is fighting to ensure workplaces are safe environments and to step in when employers fall short.”

Thompsons Solicitors is proud to support unions and is highlighting the help it can offer for people such as Andrea, through the Legal Protection for those who Protect campaign.

Clare Nash, of Thompsons Solicitors, said: “Andrea is a dedicated professional who has given years of support to the most challenging pupils. Her efforts weren’t reciprocated by her employer, who routinely ignored her legitimate safety fears. Had they listened and acted, her whole ordeal could have been avoided.”