Violence in Schools
Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank Ms Lee for bringing this very important motion before the Assembly today. I also wish to publicly thank the brave mums and dads who have helped make the necessity of this motion obvious to nearly everyone, by speaking out and sharing their experiences. They love their kids and just want to see them obtain a solid education in a genuinely safe environment.
I rise today, Madam Speaker, to speak in full support of this motion. In doing so, I wish to share, with permission, the personal experiences of a family that lives in my electorate of Ginninderra. For years, the parents in this family have had complete confidence in Canberra’s government-run schools. All of their children have attended these schools, and all of the older children have been successful at school.
Something significant, however, has changed in recent years, this family has told me. Almost from the moment that their youngest child started school, the violence started. The parents have gone so far as to describe what their son has experienced as ‘physical abuse’. According to what they have shared, he has been punched, pinned, dragged, strangled, and more – all by other children. They have kept a catalogue of his numerous injuries, Madam Speaker – too numerous to share in this space.
At the end of year 1, the parents requested a meeting with the school. The only explanation they feel they received was that their son was in a rough year group. There was no promise that things would improve, but their faith in the government school sector led them to re-enrol their son the following year. This became the breaking point. The violence continued and worsened, as did the negative impacts on their child. He became terrified of attending school. He experienced frequent abdominal pains identified as a consequence of enormous stress. He faltered in his studies so much that a tutor told his parents he was at least a year behind in his learning.
Eventually, the parents felt compelled to pull their son out of this government-run school for his own protection. They then spent a week discovering that, by design, it is virtually impossible in this territory to enrol a child in a nearby public school, all of which refused to help and sent them back to the original school. According to what the parents told me, they next contacted the Education Directorate’s Liaison Unit, which recommended home schooling.
When this family were finally able to meet with school leadership, the principal offered them not a promise that their son would be safe at school but rather materials for home-schooling. The parents said that they were also warned against pursuing this issue any further since they didn’t want to become ‘that family’ in this territory. As the mum said to me, she now has some understanding of what it feels like to be bullied.
Knowing how much their son had experienced, the parents requested all incident reports from the Education Directorate and got back a total of two reports. This, they said, was the final straw for their family. In good faith, they had assumed that the ACT Government was at least accurately tracking what was happening in its schools. Instead, they found out that there was almost no data available relating to what had happened to their own child.
Predictably, Madam Speaker, anytime the Canberra Liberals raise concerns with this government, those opposite immediately pretend that we are somehow criticising the good women and men who work hard to deliver excellence in their professions. It is important, therefore, that I repeat what the parents of this family shared with me about the teachers at their son’s school: these teachers are fantastic, hardworking and skilled. This is not a failure in any way of teachers or teaching assistants or other frontline workers.
They, like the kids themselves, are the real victims of this government’s failure to keep our schools safe.
Madam Speaker, every student and teacher deserves to be safe in ACT schools. I say that as a mother whose five children have all attended these schools. The sad reality, however, is that kids in more than one school are not safe, and the appalling lack of data kept by this government means that we currently have only a vague sense of this problem based upon the personal experiences of the families that are now coming forward. As parents choose to speak out, I have no doubt that others will find the courage to join them, and the extent of the problem will become clearer.
But the real solution, Madam Speaker, is to, first, acknowledge that the problem exists. Those opposite frequently talk about the impacts of trauma on children and young people and the need to intervene early and provide the supports necessary to stop and reverse the impacts of this trauma. If they are serious, they will agree to establish an independent inquiry to assess the trauma-causing violence that is occurring in our schools. The family whose story I shared today no longer have any faith that this government will take this important step. I hope this Assembly will today prove them wrong.