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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Fulltime support staff recommended to combat school bullying

Employing fulltime social workers and youth workers in every ACT public school is one of the recommendations in the final report of the ACT Parliamentary inquiry into bullying and violence in ACT schools handed down on 19 September.

The ACT Assembly’s Committee on Education, Employment and Youth Affairs report made nine findings and put forward 23 recommendations, following months spent investigating the matter.

The report also recommended the ACT Government continue to recruit additional school psychologists and provide psychological support services outside school hours and in school holidays, and investigate mechanisms that ensure Personal Protections Orders are drafted in a way that can be enforced within educational settings.

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) welcomed the release of the report, and supported the recommendations on employing fulltime social workers and youth workers in schools and recruiting psychologists to work outside school hours and terms.

“These steps will ensure students can access essential social support services, with continuity of care. We have been progressing this ask since 2014,” ACTCOSS CEO Susan Helyar said.

“Bringing community services into schools recognises that student safety and wellbeing cannot be dealt with by the school on its own … there are a variety of factors that influence a student’s behaviour, including the school, family, society and community.”

However, Shadow Minister for Higher Education and Training, Andrew Wall, said the report demonstrated issues around communication between parents, schools and the government.

“Complaints obviously haven’t been properly dealt with. This has meant witnesses and victims have effectively been left to deal with violent situations without proper support,” Mr Wall said.

This Inquiry was referred to the Committee on 4 April, they advertised for submissions on 9 April, closing on 16 May, receiving 27 submissions in total.

The Committee held in-camera hearings over May, June and July, receiving evidence from a range of witnesses including parents, peak bodies, law enforcement; the Committee heard from eight organisations and six individuals.

In order to uphold the limited referral and maintain the privacy of parents, students, teachers and schools, the Committee did not agree to publish transcripts from any of the public hearings.

The report said that during the Inquiry, the Committee also met with many government school leaders and Education Directorate officials.

During those meetings, the Committee was assured that there is both “professional determination and personal goodwill” behind current efforts designed to make schools safe.

“Despite this intent, the Committee has heard distressing evidence from a range of stakeholders that represent the breadth of education provision in the ACT,” it read.

The report stated the Committee had identified a range of measures that could be introduced by the Education Directorate to ensure “that schools are strategically using social emotional learning programs to stop bullying and violence before it begins, and others that allow for parents and students to feel an increased sense of agency following incidents of bullying and violence”.

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