19 March 2019

School violence review won't hear testimonies, as fight videos hit social media

| Ian Bushnell
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Videos of fights involving Canberra high school students have been posted online. Note: This picture does not depict Canberra students.

A review of the handling of violence in ACT public schools will not hear directly from parents, students and teachers but rely on case studies, according to Education Minister Yvette Berry.

The Minister’s outline of how the review will work comes as disturbing videos on social media emerge of Canberra schoolchildren involved in fights and bashings.

The videos have been shared on platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram, and accounts call for users to upload videos of fights in Canberra.

The ABC said it had obtained dozens of examples of the violent and graphic footage and that many followers who had liked and commented on the videos identify themselves as Canberra high school students and in some instances name their schools.

Ms Berry said the review, while independent, would not be an inquiry as called for by the Opposition, but will look at how schools and the Education Directorate have responded to particular incidents.

She told the ABC that it had to be a systems-wide approach and she did not want a report that ended up pointing fingers at individual schools, children or families.

“This is not about demonising or belittling or making a spectacle of what is a very serious and sometimes quite complex issue,” she said.

“If there are issues with systems we have in place I want to make sure they are fixed.”

Ms Berry said that when schools had been identified it could be destructive for the school community and made it more difficult for the community to rebuild.

Education Minister Yvette Berry said the independent review will not aim to vilify schools or students. File photo.

The review committee would comprise eminent Canberrans including paediatrician Dr Sue Packer.

Opposition education spokesperson Elizabeth Lee welcomed the review but said an independent inquiry would still be preferred.

“We haven’t got the terms of reference and don’t know the makeup of the committee. We’ll need to see if it’s sufficient,” she told the ABC.

The school fight videos story comes after parents at a primary school in Tuggeranong went public about the level of violence among students, which prompted Ms Lee’s call for an inquiry.

The ABC spoke to the mother of a 14-year-old boy who had been attacked in a mall by another student at his public school and the incident filmed by smartphone and shared online.

The mother, who did not wish to be named, said the incident traumatised her son and she feared he would become the target of further bullying if he was seen by other students as a “dobber”.

But after she learned that this type of bullying was not isolated, she had decided to speak out and go to authorities.

She described an emerging trend of Canberra high school students attacking one another for the sake of filming and sharing the violence on social media platforms.

“They have a friend with their mobile phone at the ready and they go up and approach another teenager and start abusing,” she told the ABC.

“It’s verbal abuse, and then it’s pushing and shoving, and then it’s turning into punching each other then they’re posting these things online, and the shock value is ‘look what I’ve posted’, ‘look at this fight’.”

Her son refused to fight back and was able to walk away uninjured, but the attack left him traumatised, knowing some of his peers were sharing, liking and enjoying the video long after the incident.

The mother said the response from the boy’s high school and the authorities reassured them that reporting the incident was the right decision.

“We did go to the school. We did go to the police. We had a restraining order put in place,” she said. “We did everything we needed to do to prevent any further bullying, and it has stopped.”

Both Ms Berry and Ms Lee said these situations required a whole of community response and believed social media companies should take more responsibility for the content on their platforms.

University of Canberra psychologist Professor Debra Rickwood said the common mob behaviour of teenagers went ‘on steroids’ once you added social media, and it was important for parents and schools to offer the supports and programs to counter the peer culture of that age group.

She said at that stage of their life, and with undeveloped brains, teenagers often had little understanding of the consequences of their actions and found it very difficult to make a decision to go against the prevailing situation.

The Council of Parents and Citizens Associations said posting material of this nature on social media was a disturbing trend and urged parents to report videos to their school or the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.

In 2017, the Council established a Parent Support Group on Violence in Schools as a forum for parents and carers to share their experiences.

“We have identified some improvements we would like to see in the way in which staff and students are supported and the way any violent incidents are handled. We are continuing to represent these concerns to the Directorate and work towards the improvements we need,” Council president Kirsty McGovern-Hooley said.

The next general meeting will focus on the Support Group’s work and the Council’s efforts on violence in schools. It is at the Centre for Teaching and Learning in Stirling on Tuesday 26 March 26 at 7 pm.

Parents wanting to join the Support Group can contact the Council office on 6241 5759 or go here for more information.

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Fight club videos? Hmmm. When I was at school the rule was that what happens in fight club stays in fight club and you didn’t tell your parents or teachers. Certainly filming it was out of the question.

Case studies? Sounds like the outcome’s already been determined.

Maybe it’s time some families and individuals responsible for assaults were “identified and demonised” not to mention being prosecuted. Softly softly will achieve nothing. Bullies aren’t intelligent enough to recognise it. Students and teachers copping assaults: nowhere near good enough Yvette, pull your finger out and take positive, disciplinary action, the kind that costs and hurts.

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