A new million-dollar taskforce will probe safety at the Territory’s public schools, beginning with a series of reviews of the system.
It follows a highly publicised incident earlier this year where the ACT’s work safety watchdog barred a cohort of Calwell High School students from attending the school campus.
According to the government, the latest taskforce will lead a system-wide transformation that will improve the safety and wellbeing of students and staff.
It will be supported by an advisory group, comprising representatives from the Australian Education Union (ACT Branch), ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations, ACT Principals’ Association, ACT Policing, and work health and safety experts from the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate.
The first swathe of reviews will show how safety processes at public schools are currently operating. That will then be used to inform improvements.
Additional professional learning will also be funded as part of the $1.14 million package, and new curriculum resources will be developed to support teachers in planning and workload management.
Minister for Education and Youth Affairs Yvette Berry acknowledged in a statement the past two years had been challenging for everyone.
“Our school communities have not been immune from the pressures of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and a nation-wide teacher shortage,” she said.
Ms Berry earlier this year faced and survived a no-confidence motion brought by the Canberra Liberals following the barring of students from Calwell High School campus by WorkSafe ACT.
Inspectors who attended the Tuggeranong school found a campus rife with extreme bullying, “gangs” of students roaming the playground with weapons, violence and chronic teacher shortages.
Those shortages meant teachers were regularly required to teach large cohorts of students – at one time up to 75 – with little assistance. Staff 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.
An independent review into Calwell High School, separate to the safety taskforce, began in late May.
Ms Berry in April argued incidents of violence were rare in the Territory’s public schools.
“Calwell High School is a good school … it has got some issues that it is going through at the moment, but the school is being supported to ensure it is a good school and safe for students and teachers,” she told reporters at the time.
But the teachers’ union noted 1600 incidences of violence had been reported across public schools in the first three months of this year and violence was more widespread than Ms Berry was willing to admit.
Ms Berry later sought to clarify her comments to say she had meant incidents of the severity seen at Calwell High School were rare.
Another body of work is underway to find out how many teachers are needed in the ACT despite an earlier taskforce having been established in 2021 to address teacher shortages.
The funding package forms part of the upcoming Territory Budget which will be handed down on Tuesday, 2 August by Chief Minister and Treasurer Andrew Barr.