28 April 2022

School violence: Berry needs to be less defensive and show she cares

| Ian Bushnell
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yvette berry

Minister for Education Yvette Berry: time to take charge of the situation. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Revelations that WorkSafe ACT inspected four other public schools last term, beyond the seemingly out of control Calwell High, which it shut down, should only confirm the need for Education Minister Yvette Berry and the Education Directorate to change their tune on the situation.

Whether COVID-related or not, teacher shortages are being blamed for the bouts of bad student behaviour and, in Calwell High’s case, actual attacks on teachers.

There are no official details about why WorkSafe needed to visit the other schools, but there have been allegations of violence, use of illicit substances and sexualised behaviour at Amaroo School.

The Directorate has put in place measures to get Calwell High back on track, including seconding a senior school leader, which only serves to illustrate how those supposedly running the place lost control.

READ ALSO Directorate reveals WorkSafe ACT attended five public schools in term one

But whenever confronted with the reality of the situation in the classroom, halls and schoolyard, usually thanks to some parents going to the media and blowing the whistle, the Minister and the Directorate respond in mind-numbingly anodyne language designed to hose down the concerns as much as possible.

Canberra public schools may be “by and large, supportive” and safe environments, and ”mechanisms” may be in place, and the Directorate may be “committed to working with WorkSafe” but what parents at Calwell High, in particular, and all schools want to hear is that the government will take action to fix the situation and stop trying to pretend that these are just isolated instances.

It should also stop dropping a cone of silence over schools and trying to contain the fallout when inevitably the truth comes out.

As the Minister, Ms Berry needs to start devoting more energy to taking school communities seriously and assuring them that she will act, instead of reverting to familiar defensive patter about the ACT’s quality education system.

She should stop worrying about reputations and show which side she is on.

In short, she should be putting a rocket up the Directorate and demanding to know how schools could get to a Calwell High situation without intervention and that it shouldn’t happen again.

READ ALSO Calwell High School students to remain home for week one, term two as work continues to make school safe

The ACT is not immune to a nationwide teacher shortage, something the teachers union says is hard to fix, and that does put pressure on class sizes, but it should not be an excuse for losing control of a school.

It may be unpopular to say it, but the feminisation of the teacher workforce may also be a contributing factor, given that teenage boys, in particular, can be revolting towards women staff.

Parents also can’t be let off the hook. How many knew about what was going on at Calwell and other schools but kept quiet and didn’t pull their children into line?

Perhaps, a simple lesson on the difference between right and wrong, with consequences, might prove more effective than expensive reviews, recommendations and programs that perpetrators can smell a mile off as ineffectual.

It may not be exactly the blackboard jungle across the entire school system, but what is happening is serious enough and some transparency, honesty and proactive initiative, instead of carefully crafted, ministerially approved statements and damage control, would go a long way to restoring faith with school communities wanting leadership.

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I’m a parent with a child at this school. If Jeremy Hanson really wants to help, he’d stop debating funding for a minute (which let’s face it, Liberals have nothing to write home about), and start asking questions of the Directorate and the school about why parents are as in the dark as they were weeks ago when the news broke.

I raised issues of disruption in classrooms over a year ago, and nothing was done until I actually pushed harder and ended up speaking with the Deputy Principal. Fast forward to the next year and we are back at square one and more impacted due to teacher shortages.

My son has not been effected until now, when school is effectively cancelled and apparently we all have to suck up remote schooling again whether we like it or not. That would be tolerable if we had an end date, but we don’t. While I’m working from home and not impacted, many families would be.

So Mr Hanson, if you really want to help, ask the Directorate to provide certainty for families students and shine a light on what exactly they are working towards over these weeks. The same email has been sent to parents about four times. It’s not acceptable.

I will go into bat here for teachers as they are always excellent and my son, whilst impacted by disruption, is doing well.

Stephen Saunders7:29 am 29 Apr 22

Thanks, Ian, fair and constructive comment.

The Directorate tail is wagging the Ministerial dog. When push comes to shove, sometimes disruptive bullies and parents are shielded by waves of process, as victims suffer. WorkSafe should be checking cranes on building sites, not sorting physically unsafe schools.

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