Violence against teachers and school leaders: what can be done?
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 5, 27 July 2018, p6
Over the holidays, the issue of violence against teachers and school leaders gained momentum.
With an increase in incidents of physical violence against teachers and school leaders reported in the past financial year, a focus on keeping schools safe places to work is essential.
The Union is clear, violence in any form is not acceptable – whether in society or in schools. It is only in speaking out that we can act to mitigate the increase in physical attacks on teachers and school leaders.
The QTU has acted in relation to occupational violence in a number of forums. Firstly, the QTU has advocated for and is progressing the development of an occupational violence policy and process with the Department of Education. These negotiations began at the end of last year. The other unions in the State Schools Alliance (Together and United Voice) have also been involved in these negotiations. One of the key focuses is ensuring that the rhetoric matches the action. If the department has a zero-tolerance policy, then this needs to be translated into supporting schools as they act to bring this to life.
Schools take a considered approach to issuing suspensions and exclusions. Unfortunately, rather than recognising that schools issue suspensions and exclusions as a consequence of poor behaviour choices, some in our broader communities choose to use the data to suggest that a school with more student disciplinary absences (SDAs) than the school down the road is somehow not as good. It is important that we do not buy into this argument. The QTU strongly believes that when an SDA is issued, it is in response to the behaviour of the child and a way to manage this behaviour. Instead of damning schools for using SDAs, we should be supporting them in taking the appropriate action to support the good order and conduct of the school and providing healthy and safe learning environments for students, and working environments for school employees.
Secondly, the QTU believes that any approach to violence in schools should not only focus on the physical form, but should also recognise the impact of verbal abuse and online threats and violence against teachers and school leaders. School life is not quarantined to the school yard and buildings - it also enters our home and our communities through an online presence. Teachers and school leaders must feel safe when they are undertaking their duties. They need to know that there are mechanisms to address threats made against them. As such, the QTU has suggested that the wilful disturbance provisions of the Education Act be extended to include any attacks on teachers and school leaders made online. The Union will also be working with its lawyers, Holding Redlich, on approaches to keeping teachers, school leaders and schools safe online.
Finally, the QTU is one of the participants in the department’s Review of Behaviour Procedures Working Group. As such, the Union will be consulting with members about any changes to current departmental policies that may be necessary. This includes a review of the use of restrictive practices in schools. It is important that members note that the current Safe, Supportive and Disciplined School Environment procedure (including the use of time-out under the relevant circumstances) is still operational.
On occasions when members believe that the use of SDAs or other mechanisms is not sufficient to reduce an imminent risk to their health and safety, the QTU will support members by issuing directives to withdraw instruction from students or to not interact with parents until the risk to members’ wellbeing is mitigated.
QTU members do not take these actions lightly, but the Union is firm in its belief that teachers and school leaders have the right to go to work and return home in the same physical and psychological state of wellbeing in which they started the day. If this means issuing a directive to support teachers and school leaders in providing a safe place in which they can work and students can learn, then the Union will do so.