20 March 2023

Researchers warn of 'mass exodus' as ACT principals report most experiences of violence in the country

| Claire Fenwicke
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Minister for Education Yvette Berry with a group of Majura Primary School students enjoying a music lesson

Minister for Education Yvette Berry at Majura Primary School: “We don’t accept violence against any of our schools’ teaching professionals or school principals.” Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Would you sign up for a job where more than three-quarters of your colleagues have reported experiencing physical violence or threats of violence?

A new report has shown that’s what ACT principals face each time they arrive at work.

The Australian Catholic University’s Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey 2022 found reports of physical violence have increased to their highest figure nationally since the survey commenced in 2011.

Filled out by almost 2500 school leaders nationwide, it also reported that one-in-two principals are at risk of serious mental health concerns, including burnout and stress.

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ACT Principals Association (ACTPA) co-president Andy Mison isn’t surprised.

“It’s a national issue, not just an ACT issue … there’s over a decade of data there and the trends have been consistent,” he said.

“Stress and burnout are increasing, there’s expanding curriculum, increasing expectations from the community about what schools will do, higher levels of anxiety in our students, mental health issues, economic issues, students with complex diagnoses.

“Schools are really the frontline.”

The ACT reported the highest levels of physical violence and threats of violence from students at 80.5 per cent, while 39 per cent of the Territory’s principals experienced threats or violence from parents.

“There are increased expectations on schools … that schools will provide highly personal experiences for every student,” Mr Mison said.

“We aspire for that, but that requires a different conversation on resourcing.

“The solutions aren’t quick fixes. We need a national conversation over the needs and expectations on our schools.”

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The ACT’s principals also triggered the most ‘red flag’ email alerts at 58.5 per cent, which are sent when school leaders are identified to be at risk of serious mental health concerns.

Report co-lead investigator Professor Herb Marsh said it provided a “sobering look” at the mental health of our school leaders.

“They are weighed down by the compounding crunch of unsustainable workloads, chronic teacher shortages and concern about mental health issues among staff and students,” he said.

“The wellbeing of our school leaders is at a tipping point … we may see a mass exodus from the profession, and the implication for Australian education would be devastating.”

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Education Minister Yvette Berry said she felt there had been an increase in the expectations on our schools across the community, but violent outbursts were not the answer.

“You could make a lot of assumptions … and [this] might actually be because we have a highly educated community and perhaps higher expectations on our schools than everywhere else in the country,” she said.

“We don’t accept violence against any of our schools’ teaching professionals or school principals who are doing a great job, and at the end of the day, are looking out for the best interests of our young people and students.”

She said the government would continue to work with the ACTPA to find solutions, including the continued rollout of the Positive Behaviours for Learning Framework, but said the community also needed to get on board.

“We need to bring the community outside of our school gates along with that journey,” Ms Berry said.

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Mr Mison said while there has been an increasing burden placed on schools to provide not just education but social support as well, the ACT’s higher results could also be down to the culture of reporting.

“The data is high, but it’s in part due to the excellent reporting culture. Our Education Directorate has been proactive about putting measures in place to make sure we are reporting so it can provide support,” he said.

Mr Mison said while the data just focused on principals, it was indicative of what all educators were facing.

He stressed everyone needed to come together to discuss how to stop the levels of violence, stress, burnout and mental health issues to ensure the best futures for our children.

“We are often the frontline support for families in difficult situations,” Mr Mison said.

“The fundamental business of schools hasn’t changed. We’re here to support the growth of humans … and how they operate in the world.

“It’s probably not a popular view, but we need to have a conversation about work/life balance, what is the job of the school, what is the job of the parents, and how do we share the responsibility to make sure everyone is happy and healthy.”

He suggested strengthening public schools as community centres to provide more support to families could be a solution.

“For example, how can we bring more allied professionals to help so educators can focus on what they love doing, which is developing happy and successful human beings?” Mr Mison said.

“It’s actually about politicians from across the country, education bureaucrats and educators themselves working together on what the solutions are.

“These are our kids, and we’ve all got to take responsibility for them.”

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Capital Retro9:56 am 22 Mar 24

Well, Yvette Berry could be considered an expert in matters like this: https://the-riotact.com/berry-reveals-school-suspended-her-son-for-fighting/304154

@Capital Retro
Oh so typical of your level of integrity (or lack thereof), CR.

The current article relates to violence in the school and you cite a 5 year old incident of boys having a fight out of school hours, as somehow being relevant. And I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that it involved the son of the LABOR Minister for Education.

Capital Retro10:57 am 22 Mar 24

I did say “in matters like this” but I won’t deny you your “fifth leg on the cat” moment to deflect any offense to your beloved LABOR comrades.

Very grubby CR, going after a child of a sitting MLA and trying to re-shame them in social media for something that happened 5 years ago.

But as mentioned elsewhere, your comment goes to your lack of your integrity!

Capital Retro11:14 am 22 Mar 24

The high school that he attended immediately suspended him but no, that’s not relevant is it?

@Capital Retro
No, CR, the fact that he got suspended (again nearly 5 years ago) for fighting another student, out of school hours, is totally irrelevant to this article, which talks about present day violence towards teaching staff.

Your feeble attempt to draw a comparison is just another example of your ignorance.

As an ex-teacher, the role that teachers and administrators have played in the current shouldn’t be ignored. Every social demand saw carping politicians, weak bureaucrats, fawning principals and gutless teachers roll over to the slightest media pressure and include an array of knee jerk responses that overloaded the curriculum and the working day. Conned by themselves that a ‘profession’ was above the demands of ‘a job’ they failed time and again to say NO. The union was let down by the teachers themselves that refused to take a stand on the short-sighted grounds of watering down industrial responses and demands so as not to inconvenience the children. So in the short term, time and again, industrial action was weak and piecemeal and while the children weren’t disrupted they were experiencing more overloaded and burnt-out teachers. Teachers quit and no school leaver wanted the job because they saw what was happening even if administrators refused to acknowledge it. We warned other teachers (and Principals) that becoming society’s doormats was going to be a disaster. They didn’t listen.

My spouse is an administrator at a Canberra school who is subject to daily abuse and threats from students and parents. I do not know the answer but the ACT Education Directorate who is paid to do this stuff is certainly adrift. Schools are becoming unsafe work places.

HiddenDragon7:09 pm 21 Mar 23

“He suggested strengthening public schools as community centres to provide more support to families could be a solution.”

Sounds like an idea worth pursuing.

The extra costs of doing that could be met, at least in part, by cutting back the numbers of officials and consultants in the Territory and federal education bureaucracies who dream up the paperwork which adds to the burdens on teachers and principals.

Capital Retro3:42 pm 21 Mar 23

There used to be a enforcement procedure called generally, corporal punishment.

It worked.

Can’t argue with that, it did work. Why look for new ways to fix this, might as well go back to an old method. But no, we will stuff around, have think tanks or get some over priced consultants onto it and do any other time wasting activities possible trying to come up with a solution. I’m sure the solution we do come up with will be admin heavy and tedious making it a bigger complicated mess than it already is.

Martin Keast3:19 pm 21 Mar 23

Teachers tell me that their work has become tedious largely due to the incredibly increased bureaucratic expectations put upon them. – things like the NCCD reporting requirements, the mind-boggling regulatory nightmare imposed on the early childcare sector, the reporting requirements under the ACT Education Act, and so on and so on.
This article addresses the effect of declining civility in our communities and how that is manifesting in anger and violence. Parents expect too much and all the well-meaning legislation means schools can be quickly accused of discrimination if they don’t give the parents what they demand for their child.

GrumpyGrandpa1:24 pm 21 Mar 23

When we have school teachers, ambo drivers, nurses, doctors, bus drivers etc. all having to deal with abuse and violence it’s a pretty good indication that there is a general lack of respect for authority in the community.

Then there is the weak sentencing laws, softening of drug laws, police not having the funding to attend home break ins, fare evasion rife on public transport and so on. It all comes the standards set by the ACT Government.

I’m sorry Minister Berry, hollow talk means nothing.
There is a word that does mean something. It’s the word “CONSEQUENCES”.

Ms Berry suggests that because we have such a highly educated community we have higher expectations on our schools. I have high expectations of my daughter’s school, doesn’t mean I have the right to go in there and give the staff a bollocking when it suits me. Something I really notice about Canberra when I leave and then come back is the sense of entitlement here. Maybe we just have more people than anywhere else who think they are just that bit better than those ‘who are there to serve them and their little darlings’.

What a mess. Allowing kids to run riot in schools is the result of poor discipline by society in general. Kids can do anything because they know they hold the cards. Teachers are cornered into positions of not doing anything because they can be accused of everything. Time to start again.

Agree 100%. My partner works in retail where shoplifting is at all-time high levels and kids basically take what they want because they know security cannot touch them. Disappointingly, they are often WITH their parents who are also shoplifting….if the parents aren’t teaching their kids the basics (ie: discipline, respect and how to be a productive member of society) then what hope do teachers have?

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