As students returned to the classroom today, it’s been revealed the ACT’s work health and safety regulator attended five of the territory’s public school campuses in term one.
The revelations follow the highly publicised events at Calwell High School last term when WorkSafe ACT barred all year 7 and 8 students from attending campus.
Inspectors found a school campus rife with violence, bullying and teachers being stretched to breaking point after being subjected to threats, sexualised behaviour and violence from students.
All students at that school are learning from home this week, with no date set for year 7 and 8 students to return as work continues to ensure the school is safe for students and teachers.
The Education Directorate said WorkSafe ACT visited four other public schools in term one – Amaroo School, Kingsford Smith School, Namadgi School and Wanniassa School.
In line with the watchdog’s usual operations, it was unable to comment on whether any of these visits had led to ongoing investigations, whether notices of any kind were issued, or even if it had been called in specifically or not.
Region Media has been made aware of allegations of violence, use of illicit substances and sexualised behaviour at Amaroo School in recent weeks, but the regulator could not confirm if that was why it attended.
Education Minister Yvette Berry said she was aware WorkSafe ACT had attended multiple schools in term one but a prohibition notice had only been issued for Calwell High School.
Australian Education Union ACT branch president Angela Burroughs said she had not been given the names of the schools visited by WorkSafe ACT, but it was a good thing the independent regulator was able to do so.
“Our understanding is that they are attending school sites because of work safety concerns due to a severe shortage of teachers,” she said.
That teacher shortage, Ms Burroughs noted, was “hard to fix”.
“It’s not something where you can just magic up more staff … workload is obviously a contributing factor.”
And while Ms Burroughs noted COVID-19 had exacerbated these concerns, she said it was important to remember such problems existed before the pandemic.
This was evidenced at Calwell High School where teachers were often required to supervise classes of more than 40 students, with one teacher supervising 75 students with minimal support.
A spokesperson for the ACT Education Directorate said Canberra public schools were “by and large, supportive” and safe environments.
“The Education Directorate acknowledges the important role WorkSafe ACT plays in ensuring workplaces are as safe as they can be and is committed to working with WorkSafe where any opportunities for improvement are identified to ensure safe learning and work environments for all staff and students.
“Formal mechanisms [are] in place to reduce the risk of occupational violence against staff and support the work health and safety of our entire workforce and student population.”
But Opposition spokesperson for education Jeremy Hanson described it as a tragedy for “students, teachers, and parents” if Canberra schools were unsafe.
He said the Education Minister needed to stop denying that violence in schools is now widespread and “must take responsibility for the critical teacher shortage caused by the ACT Government cutting funding to ACT schools by 3.3 per cent in real terms over the last decade”.