6 April 2022

Education Minister survives no-confidence motion after Calwell 'nightmare' comes to light

| Lottie Twyford
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Yvette Berry addressing the Legislative Assembly

Minister for Education Yvette Berry survived a no-confidence motion after the Opposition labelled her handling of the situation at Calwell High School “incompetent”. Photo: Region Media.

The Territory’s Education Minister has survived a no-confidence motion raised by the Opposition after revelations a Canberra school has been deemed unsafe for students and teachers.

The Assembly heard a prohibition notice – which barred year 7 and 8 students from campus – made for “upsetting” reading for the teachers’ union and “shocking” reading for Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee.

The notice revealed critical safety issues relating to bullying and violence against teachers and students, a “gang” culture among students and serious staffing and resource shortfalls at the school.

READ MORE Calwell High School parent ‘absolutely livid’ to learn depth of school’s violence, staffing issues

Inspectors described teachers who were “scared” of students as they were subjected to violence, swearing, abuse and sexualised behaviour, and faced with large classes – one of up to 75 students.

Ms Lee laid the blame solely at the feet of Minister for Education Yvette Berry, who she described as an “incompetent minister who [had] failed to act” and allowed the “nightmare” of Calwell High School to occur.

“I’m devasted for our teachers and school staff who are enduring these horrendous working conditions … those students who are experiencing this horror on a daily basis … for our parents who rightly expect their children to be safe at school and are being completely and utterly betrayed under the watch of this minister,” she said.

Ms Lee claimed Ms Berry had failed to ensure adequate teachers and the right school infrastructure to support the community.

She said if this was to occur in any other workplace, the person in charge would be held responsible by the law and the community.

“This is deplorable. If you do not take a stand you are failing every single Canberran.”

Elizabeth Lee

Opposition leader Elizabeth Lee called Education Minister Yvette Berry “incompetent” for her failure to address issues of resourcing and violence at Calwell High School. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Opposition spokesperson for education Jeremy Hanson again described the situation at Calwell High School as the worst he had seen in all his years of politics.

“The [students and teachers] are not safe … how is that acceptable?” he asked.

“A minister that does not act when kids’ safety and teachers’ safety is at risk does not deserve to be a minister in any government.”

But the government’s whip Mick Gentleman described the Opposition’s motion as nothing but a “stunt” and the ACT Greens did not support the no-confidence motion either.

Ms Berry said she had also been devasted to read WorkSafe ACT’s report.

“This should not be happening in our schools,” she said.

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Ms Berry argued action had been undertaken to address the teachers union’s concerns at Calwell High School since it became aware of them last July and said additional resources had been allocated to the school, including on-site counsellors for staff and school psychologist appointments available via Telehealth.

“The school support plan is being updated – ready for implementation in term two. Key themes will focus on risk management approaches, teaching quality, health and wellbeing for students and staff are being briefed on supports available,” Ms Berry told the Assembly.

She also outlined all the investments the government is currently making in education and school infrastructure and reiterated comments about the entire country facing teacher shortages “which the ACT is not immune to”.

But Ms Lee described this response as heartless, disrespectful and robotic.

Ms Berry argued once again that Calwell “is a great school and it is a safe school”.

“The teachers are all wonderful and the students I have met with have warmly welcomed me to their school. It distresses me to hear of the circumstances that have occurred out at Calwell,” she said.

“I’m committed to providing all the support to lift them out of this situation and to continue their great reputation within their community.”

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Australian Education Union ACT branch secretary Patrick Judge has confirmed the issue of understaffing and under-resourcing raised by teachers at Calwell High School is not isolated.

“We have had some contact from members at different schools telling us that they have the same or similar problems in terms of staffing but also that there are impacts in terms of safety,” he said.

Mr Judge said the union was making those concerns known to the Directorate and said they had a responsibility as an employer to ensure a safe workplace, free of violence.

“It’s as much a concern to me if they didn’t know about this as if they did know and hadn’t taken appropriate action.”

He said Calwell High School must be provided with additional resources by the Directorate, and that it would likely require above and beyond the usual levels of support to “recover” from the position it now found itself in.

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James-T-Kirk5:02 pm 07 Apr 22

While what is happening is shocking and I am confident that the school is doing everything they can, has anybody actually thought about how *useless* the entire No Confidence Motion process actually is.

Firstly, nobody in government ever raises a motion against anybody in opposition, as it wouldn’t do anything.

Secondly, every time somebody in opposition raises a motion against anybody in government, it (by definition) can never pass. All of the parties will always vote along party lines, so literally the government will quash the motion.

That’s why the opposition is the opposition – they didn’t win the election…. The Government did.

It is simply a time waster till the 4pm pub run.

The school has the hardest working staff and they truly care about the kids and the community. Unfortunately an alternative education centre at the school that combined social welfare, vocational education and psychological support was shut down by the ACT Education Directorate. This was despite the Minister opening the program and evidence supporting the students who took part. It was shut because it allowed those students in need to attend during flexible hours. If it had been kept in place, this story might not have occured.

Stephen Saunders7:25 am 07 Apr 22

When our daughter was at North Ainslie early 2000s, the Principal got herself promoted, exploiting the fashionable culture of Restorative Justice for bullies.

She was ahead of the curve, and Calwell High is just the logical end point, of mimsy ACT Education policy.

The Labor and greens by supporting Berry support this.
Berry’s own son was suspended for fighting, of course she’s going to side with those poor children with some mental issues.

However for all of the rest of them they are left to fend for themselves. Why should the ones doing the right thing be made to suffer and those in the wrong get every chance under the sun. Most of the time the disruptive ones don’t care about schooling and wont make a difference for them.

Net result is it just brings the other kids down. However Labor / green don’t care most of them have no kids.

Minister, you have a serious problem, because have to think that local parents with a child in year 6, would now be questioning whether Calwell High should still be on their list of schools for next year.

Berry, you’re an embarrassment and a disgrace. I just wish the Libs would get real and become a genuine alternative government. Then we’d be rid of Barr and his bunch of clowns.

No confidence motions are a waste of time. Even where the minister is an incompetent blithering idiot, their own side is hardly going to vote for the motion.

Golly, how long will it take for the ACT government to wake up to the fact that Yvette Berry is incompetent and unsuitable to hold such an important ministry? She’s there because of factional wheeler-dealing and not because she has even one scintilla of expertise in education. I realise that the Assembly is a pretty small gene pool of talent but surely someone else (almost anyone else, probably) could take over education and do a better job. And what a disgrace for the Greens not to support the no-confidence motion. I’m no lover of the Liberals but they’ve got this one right. Education is the most important portfolio in government and if the Labor Party can’t give it to someone who can do it at least properly and, preferably, well, they are not fit to govern.

If you are silly enough to vote for Greens/Labor this is what you will get. Terrible education, irresponsible and entitled feral kids running wild, and ‘woke’ indoctrination across the board.

How bad does it need to get before the City Council acts? Unfortunately, the school support plan appears to be a paper document with little relevance to reality. Mick Gentleman described the Opposition’s motion as nothing but a “stunt” and that surprises me as I always thought Mr. Gentlemen was a fictitious character. Most of his portfolios (planning, environment, police, urban renewal and space industries – my goodness Black Mountain Tower as a rocket ship who would have thought?) appear to have problems of their own as developers cash in and have a field day, vegetation clearing for new dog boxes posing as homes in Molonglo, crime does not run rampant in Canberra it positively gallops, email your minor crimes into your local police station etc. As for the Greens, they have quickly picked up the tricks of political survival. The ACT Greens have adopted up a fair bit of Red baggage and are appearing more Yellow these days especially when they toe the ALP line. Sad days indeed. BTW I do not support any of the major parties.

To head off the haters, Red plus Green on the colour palette make Yellow.

Staff at Calwell High have been begging for additional support for at least two years, according to my friend who has worked there. Response from the ACT Govt has been silence and even anger.

Education Minister = promoted into incompetence

As highlighted in the other thread. I’m surprised MLA Davis has let this issue fester at Calwell High for so long without holding the Education Minister to account.

. He talked up Education in Tuggeranong pre-election, but has given nothing but regular praise for Minister Berry on Hansard.

. Calwell High is in his electorate, the issue has been around for sometime and he doesn’t seem to be across the ongoing issues of his constituent public schools.

. He’s on the record as saying NAPLAN is useless. But surely years of underperformance at Tuggeranong schools would make him think there must be something in the NAPLAN data.

You have to wonder just how bad things have to get before the ACT Greens support a no confidence motion in a Labor Minister.

The Union have known about this for months. Why didn’t they pull the teachers out of the school as things worsened?

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