The ACT Government has shut down calls from the Canberra Liberals for an independent investigation into violence in ACT schools, which came in response to numerous reports made to Liberal MLAs from concerned parents about student-on-student abuse in schools.
Shadow Education Minister Elizabeth Lee said she has heard reports from multiple parents of student-on-student abuse in ACT schools.
“We now have a situation where children are too scared to go to school, and parents are suffering considerable stress out of concern for the welfare of their children … We must have an independent inquiry into violence in schools.
“The independent inquiry should investigate current and historic rates of injury, behaviour management practices, the training that underpins those policies, reporting processes and follow-up practices,” Ms Lee said.
The 2018 Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey, released earlier this month, showed the ACT has the highest rate of physical violence prevalence and threats of violence prevalence toward school principals in the country.
Minister for Education Yvette Berry said that Canberra public schools are, by and large, safe and supportive places of learning.
“Canberra public schools are inclusive schools that strive to provide safe, respectful and supportive environments.
“However, schools are reflective of the community. Complex and challenging behaviours are present in all aspects of our society and schools are no different.”
Ms Lee said the Government is downplaying the serious nature of these incidents.
“The Education Minister’s wilful blindness to reports of violence against children in ACT schools has been unconscionable,” she said.
Ms Berry said any assertion that the ACT Government downplays the seriousness of this issue is incorrect.
“We take a strong stand on this issue … Canberra public schools are well placed to address incidents of bullying, harassment and violence in collaboration with students, parents and carers.
“The Education Directorate has policies and procedures in place to help schools appropriately address bullying, harassment and violence,” she said.
Ms Berry said schools are required to report to the Education Directorate any incident that results in serious harm or injury or puts the safety of students, staff or visitors at significant risk, or poses a real threat to property or the school environment.
The Government keeps a report on the number of children injured at school each year, but has no breakdown on how injuries were sustained, who caused them, what the treatment was, how old the child was, etc.
School-based incidents are managed at the school level as it would require a significant investment of time and resources to provide in-depth, incident-by-incident data.
Ms Lee said she doesn’t believe the Government has the “will” to make ACT schools safe for everyone given “they don’t keep a record of violent incidents”.
The ACT Government voted against establishing an independent inquiry last month.