25 May 2022

Calwell High to undergo formal review process as part of school's 'improvement journey'

| Lottie Twyford
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Calwell High School

Year 7 and 8 students at Calwell High School were barred from attending school in term one after WorkSafe ACT found an “untenable”, violent and unsafe situation. Photo: Calwell High School.

The Tuggeranong school where students were banned from attending campus after allegations of extreme bullying, violence and dire teacher shortages will undergo a formal review process.

In a letter sent to parents earlier this week, Calwell High School principal Megan Altenburg said an independent review would begin on Tuesday, 31 May.

The review will be conducted by teachers and educators from the ACT, NSW and Victorian education systems. They will scrutinise the school across many areas, including student learning and engagement.

Teaching, leadership and organisational practices would also be considered as part of the review, Ms Altenburg’s letter said.

While school reviews are a “regular practice” for ACT public schools, this specific one is being conducted following the lifting of a WorkSafe ACT prohibition notice which had blocked Year 7 and 8 students from attending campus for four weeks.

Schools are normally reviewed every five years in the Territory.

The Territory’s work health and safety regulator was called into the school in late March following a request for assistance from the teachers’ union.

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Inspectors found a school rife with violence where chronic staff shortages meant teachers were regularly required to teach large cohorts of students – at one time up to 70 – with little assistance. Those same teachers were regularly subjected to sexualised behaviour, abuse and threats, and assaults by students.

One teacher was left with a dislocated shoulder, several broken teeth, welts to the lower arm and bruising to their back after trying to intervene to stop one student from assaulting another. Another staff member locked themselves in a cupboard, crying uncontrollably due to the pressure.

A parent, who spoke to Region Media on the condition of anonymity at the time, described herself as “completely livid” with the situation and with what she perceived to be a lack of communication about the depth of the issues from the Directorate and the school.

Parents were initially told students would need to be at home due to COVID-induced teacher shortages which have affected many public schools this year.

All students spent the first week of Term Two at home as work commenced to make the campus safe before Year 9 and 10 students were able to return earlier this month.

Education Minister Yvette Berry

Minister for Education Yvette Berry will be unable to comment on the review until it is completed. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

It’s understood neither the Minister for Education, Yvette Berry, nor the ACT Education Directorate will be able to comment further on the review until it has been completed. Outcomes should be known by next month.

Before the return of all students to that school campus, a number of changes have been made, including the addition of two classroom teachers and another school leader. The school would also continue to roll out the Positive Behaviour for Learning program and teachers would be able to participate in professional development and ongoing training.

Parents were also told they could expect changes such as more frequent parent communication and greater consistency around how incidents are managed and communicated to the community.

The school principal described the review as the “next phase of the [school’s] improvement journey” and asked parents and carers to share their experiences.

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Instead of just extra funding for the review. Let’s hope the Minister puts adequate funding increases into properly resourcing the school and teachers for once. You can’t address long term issues at a struggling school when it’s so run down and when there’s no incentives for the good teachers to stay or come to the school.

I can’t help wondering whether this review will find the teachers need additional training? To me, it appears that this might be where this is heading.

Our teachers deserve better than that.

No one working in “people facing roles”, whether they be teachers, nurses, bus drivers or shop assistants, should be put in a situation where they are working under the threat of abuse or violence.

This sort of behaviour wouldn’t be tolerated in an expensive fee-paying private school. The parents would be put on notice: “If your child continues with this behaviour, they’ll be asked to leave”.

Our kids went to public schools and the vast majority of kids at their schools were well behaved and great kids, however, the risk in the public system is that there are no meaningful consequences for either kid or their parents because the Government tolerates lower standards.

Just turf out the bad apples so that the good kids can get an education. Where the scum go? Who cares.

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