Violence Against Teachers
Violent attacks against teachers are on the rise in some States, leading to renewed efforts to protect educators.
“Parents need to discuss their grievances with teachers and school principals in a way that is respectful.”
THE investigation this year by the Australian Education Reporter follows yearly research by the Australian Catholic University (ACU) since 2011. ACU researchers found that 36 per cent of 1580 school leaders reported being victims of physical violence, mainly from students, and 44 per cent received verbal threats.
In South Australia there was an increase in acts of violence against staff, from 789 in 2016 to 846 in 2017 – seven of which were committed by parents.
Ms Pam Kent, Director of People and Culture and former chairperson of the South Australia Primary Principals Association, described the trend as “worrying” but also suggested that it could reflect heightened awareness by schools to report incidents.
“It is also a symptom of pressures that some families are experiencing in society today,” she said.
“Parents need to discuss their grievances with teachers and school principals in a way that is respectful and not speak disrespectfully of the teacher in front of the child as it could have an adverse effect.”
She said that teachers and ancillary staff in South Australia had access to de-escalation training and the Partnerships, Schools and Pre-schools corporate division provided advice to support schools in handling cases of violence.
She said that teachers who chose teaching as a career should see that violence was an exception and not the norm.
Ms Kent said that teachers were resilient and it was her experience that very few quit because of violence.
WA teachers threatened industrial action at the start of the school year, with figures obtained by the West Australian showing that 595 physical incidents reported in 2017 involved students against teachers, compared with 444 in 2015 and 165 in 2014.
State School Teachers Union president Pat Byrne said that members wanted student violence against teachers to be classed as an occupational safety and health issue.
Ms Byrne told Perth Now that a register of assaults on teachers would allow the Education Department to track the location, frequency and nature of attacks.
Deputy Director-general of Schools, Stephen Baxter, told The Australian Education Reporter that public schools were very safe and the majority of its 300,000-plus students were well-behaved.
Mr Baxter said some incidents involved students with disabilities who may not be aware of their actions, but that the Department would support the teacher.
“Parents are a key to a child’s behaviour as moderating behaviour begins at home and we rely on parents and others in the community to reinforce positive behaviour messages,” he said.
To help schools manage student behaviour there were 13 Engagement Centres across WA.
In NSW schools, term 4 2016 data showed
295 violent attack incidents compared with
186 for the same time in 2015, based on figures from 66 principals’ networks.
The percentage is relatively small for approximately 2200 schools and 790,000-plus students.
NSW has a dedicated Health and Safety Directorate that provides specialist injury management and work, health and safety services and support.
A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education said the Department was currently reviewing its crime prevention program in schools with NSW police to improve its incident response.
When incidents occurred the Department’s Incident Support Unit that included seconded police officers coordinated police support and provided immediate advice to schools.
The Incident Report and Support Hotline was available to assist principals at all hours.
“Violence and anti-social behaviour are not tolerated at school and any student violence or criminal behaviour at school is subject to the department’s discipline policy and parents or carer will be notified,” the spokesperson said.
Findings of the NSW Justice Department into school violence showed that causes were poor supervision by parents, problems in the family and inability to cope with the curriculum; contrary to the myth that it was caused by the school environment.
A Tasmanian Department of Education spokesman said that the department took a “holistic approach” to bullying or violent behaviour.
Data shows that in 2017 violence or aggression against teachers affected 3.71 percent of the estimated 4491 teachers compared with 3.54 percent in 2016.
“Our teachers and staff have access to a wide range of professional learning opportunities as well as professional support staff including psychologists and social workers,” the spokesperson said.
Schools were supported through the Respectful Schools Support Team.
Changes to the recent review of Tasmania’s Education Act and legislative conditions assisted schools to support students and their families where children posed behavioural risks to themselves or others.
Tasmanian schools held a week-long program in March under the theme “Imagine a World Free From Bullying” to support the National Day of Action on March 16 against bullying and violence.
The Northern Territory Education Department said that there were 521 incidents of violence against teachers and corporate officers in 2016-2017. A report by the ABC on violence in NT schools showed an increase from 37 in 2012, to 253 in 2015.
According to a 2018 report by SBS there were almost 1850 reported incidents of assault or aggressive behaviour on staff or fellow students during the 2017 school year in Victorian public schools.
It has led to more stringent reporting requirements, training for regional office staff to focus on the issue and deliver additional support. The State Government announced a $9 million safety and security package for schools, and more mental health support in the sector.
A Queensland Teachers Union spokesman said that more educators coming forward to report incidents showed a positive shift in attitudes.
“Otherwise the system is not aware that they’re happening and that is a real concern,” he said.
In short, we need to give greater visibility to violence against our teachers.