Reports of violence in Education Directorate rises exponentially

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ACT Government incident data shows three-quarters of all recorded occupational violence incidents in the ACT public service between 2013 and 2018 occurred in the Education Directorate.

The figures, supplied by Chief Minister Andrew Barr in response to a question on notice from the Canberra Liberals, reveal a five-fold increase in the number of reported incidents of occupational violence in the Education Directorate in five years.

In 2017-18 there were 2,431 reported incidents of occupational violence compared to 480 in 2013-14. The latest figures are also a significant increase from 2016-17, which saw 1,622 reported incidents.

Shadow Education Minister Elizabeth Lee said these figures show there are more than six violent incidents in the education system a day.

“A single incident of violence is a worry; 2,431 violent incidents in just one year is deeply concerning.

“Our teachers, school leaders and education staff deserve a safe workplace. If this level of violence was seen in a private industry, this Government would have already shut it down,” she said.

An ACT Government spokesperson told Canberra Weekly the Opposition is conflating a reported incident with an occurrence.

“There may be more than one report for each occurrence of occupational violence.

“It is also incorrect to conflate an increase in reporting with an increase in the occurrence of occupational violence. There are more reports because staff are now encouraged to report when previously they may not have.

“There has also been no comparable increase in injuries that resulted in staff taking time off work.

“It has resulted in an increase in reported incidents, which importantly reflects a positive culture shift towards an understanding that occupational violence is unacceptable in ACT Public Schools,” the spokesperson said.

Ms Lee referenced an enforceable undertaking issued by WorkSafe ACT to the ACT Education Directorate in September 2018 after a two-year investigation that found the Directorate “did not do all that was reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of its staff”.

“WorkSafe ACT took firm action against the ACT Government for its failure to keep education staff safe,” Ms Lee said. “That enforceable undertaking has been in place for six months now and we have seen no evidence that the situation is improving.

“The community needs to be assured that the recommendations of the enforceable undertaking are being implemented to full effect,” Ms Lee said.

The spokesperson responded that over the past two years, the ACT Government has invested over $8 million to improve the approach toward health and safety and support for staff and students.

“This has included staff training, strengthening staff support systems and enhancing learning environments.

“All ACT public schools have completed occupational violence training … Work on this project is ongoing and the Directorate is committed to improving the health and safety of all staff and students.”

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