Sunday, 8 March 2020
A father who walked away with a $650 fine and no conviction for bashing a teacher has prompted the Australian Principals Federation to push for mandatory sentencing of adults who assault school staff.
An anonymous principal, from a "very middle-class, eastern-suburbs" Melbourne primary school, said the verdict was "not even a slap on the wrist" and made him question whether it was worth reporting assaults on school staff.
“I write to share my frustration in what cannot be seen as anything other than an unbelievable lack of respect and protection for educators," he wrote in the federation's newsletter.
"This parent entered a school classroom, without any discussion whatsoever, punched a teacher in the face, then pushed him to the ground and kicked him.
"He then continued to behave in an extremely aggressive and threatening manner and the victim required medical attention.
"When the verdict was read out, a fine of $650, I shook my head and asked myself, 'what respect does our society have for educators if the consequence for assaulting a teaching professional is so insignificant?'."
APF president Julie Podbury said schools should be free of violence. "Principals want to see staff in school protected and feeling safe," she said.
The federation first raised the idea of mandatory sentencing four years ago, and Ms Podbury said this recent case had strengthened its resolve.
Victoria has mandatory sentencing laws for anyone who assaults and injures on-duty emergency service workers, such as police officers, paramedics and firefighters.
Mandatory sentencing for assaults on school staff goes beyond the recommendations of a taskforce on violence in schools.
However, the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia said it should be considered if "parental behaviour continues to worsen".
"Schools are communities, and awareness of this can make school staff reluctant to report incidents of violence to police when parents of students are the offenders," said the association's chief executive, Beth Blackwood.
"While at this point we would be reluctant to support the notion of a mandatory sentencing approach for acts of violence, if parental behaviour continues to worsen, it is an option that must be considered if we are to send a strong signal to the broader community."
The Victorian Education Department did not say if the government was considering widening its mandatory sentencing laws to include school staff.
A spokesman said "incidents of violence and aggression remain relatively rare in Victoria’s more than 1500 government schools" and "where necessary, the department works closely with the school to ensure the matter is appropriately reported to the police."
Official figures show each Victorian state school reports on average between one and two violent incidents a year. In 2018, about 2100 violent and aggressive incidents were recorded, with 200 of those leading to police involvement.
But Deakin University's Phil Riley, who runs a large and long-running survey of Australian principals, said reported figures did not reflect the problem.
"The claim that violence in schools is rare in Victoria is erroneous," Professor Riley said.
His most recent Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey showed almost one in two principals had experienced threats of violence, and more than a third had experienced physical violence. Women were more at risk, with 40 per cent reporting violence compared to 32 per cent for men.
Separately, a newly released global study, the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey, found 12 per cent of Australian principals reported that intimidation or verbal abuse of teachers or staff happened at least weekly. This was four times the OECD average.
The Australian Education Union, Independent Schools Victoria, and Catholic Education Melbourne declined to comment.
Here’s some of the myths we’ve heard about bushfires.
MYTH 1: BUSHFIRES HAVE ALWAYS HAPPENED
Sure, bushfires are part of Australia’s wild landscape and many species of trees and plants need fire to regenerate but, we need to look at what the experts say.
This year’s Australian bushfires were unprecedented for many reasons, the most obvious being there were more ferocious thunderstorms than we’ve ever seen before.
In the southern states most heavily impacted, the fires started much earlier in the fire season – in some areas, months earlier than normal.
The background environmental conditions – warm and very dry landscapes - combined to favour the generation and spread of bushfires.
Tragically, reports suggest millions of native animals have been killed by the fires – a much larger number than in any previous bushfire event.
The intensity and ferociousness of the fires in many areas were much greater than firefighters have experienced in the past and we must remember they are the experts with the relevant experience.
Fires were simultaneously spread across a much larger area of NSW and Victoria than at any point in the past – with some so called ‘mega blazes’ combining to really challenge firefighting experts.
Overall the fires have had far reaching and massive economic as well as human emotional impacts that far exceed anything we’ve ever experienced before and, in fact, a new national survey by the ANU reveals 80 per cent of all Australian’s have been affected one way or another by the bushfires – the largest ever.
MYTH 2: CLIMATE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THESE BUSHFIRES
Connected to the first myth, lots of stories have circulated saying that climate has nothing to do with the bushfires experienced in the 2019/2020 Australian summer. This is nonsense.
Climate refers to the ‘long term’ average of factors such as temperature, wind speed, rainfall and humidity at a particular point on the land surface – say over Perth.
And by long term we mean over 10 or 20-year rolling averages.
This contrasts with ‘weather’ - the temperature or humidity outside your building right now. Weather varies quickly but climate takes longer to change.
However, the climate in Australia has been changing. For example, over the past 100 years, average Australian land surface temperatures have risen by about 1C, which is remarkable. Obviously, a warmer climate is a climate where fires can more easily start and spread.
The other big issue is that Australia is in the grip of a very significant drought.
Even with widespread heavy rainfall across large parts of Australia in early February 2020, the Bureau of Meteorology ‘s most recent drought, rainfall deficiency and water availability estimates released on February 6 show vast regions of Australia, over the past 22 months, have had the lowest rainfall records.
East Australia has seen record low rainfall the past three winters which has majorly contributed to the drought.
On top of that, others drivers of Australia’s climate intensified the drought and extreme heat over winter and spring, which was also conducive to horrible bushfire weather.
This all happened on top of a 1C warming trend.
Increasing temperatures and lower rainfall both combine to show how climate has an impact on setting the stage to favour bushfire occurrence.
MYTH 3: ARSONISTS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR AUSTRALIA’S BUSHFIRE CRISIS
Much misinformation has been spread in Australia and overseas this summer about arsonists being responsible for our summer of unprecedented bushfires.
Plain and simple – this is wrong.
While sadly it is true that every year a handful of fire bugs start fires - all mostly very small - less than 1 per cent of the land burned in NSW this year is the result of the work of arsonists. The figures are even lower in the other states and territories.
The vast majority of the 2019/2020 Australian bushfires were all started by dry lightning strikes including the largest mega-blazes in NSW.
In fact, NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Inspector Ben Shepherd said lightning was predominantly responsible for the bushfire crisis.
“I can confidently say the majority of the larger fires that we have been dealing with have been a result of fires coming out of remote areas as a result of dry lightning storms,” he said.
The Gospers Mountain “mega-blaze” and the Green Wattle Creek fire, which were both near Sydney, were ignited by lightning.
All the major blazes in the Snowy Mountains and South Coast which took hold on New Year’s Eve were also started by lightning. This includes the Dunns Road and Green Valley fires that burnt near the state’s south border.
MYTH 4: GREENIES HAVE STOPPED HAZARD REDUCTION BURNS
This is rubbish. Hazard reduction or back burning is when the dry, dead vegetation that fuels fires is deliberately burned off by fire officials to reduce the overall effects of future or actual fires.
While important, a widely spread myth this season is that a green conspiracy has meant that fire officials have been denied the opportunity to undertake hazard reduction burns. This is just not true.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has clearly indicated that in NSW the fire authorities have managed to undertake about 90 per cent of their planned hazard reduction burns anyway.
Mr Fitzsimmons says the real issues is the available window of favourable weather conditions to undertake hazard reduction burns is now greatly reduced because of climate change, meaning less time is available to undertake burns.
And once fires of the scale and intensity of those we witnessed this summer take hold, hazard reduction burns are unsafe for firefighters and largely ineffective as the fire behaviour is so complex and extensive.
Aside from not being in power, the Greens don’t have anything in their policies to say they’re against hazard reduction burning.
MYTH 5: WE CANNOT CHANGE WHAT’S HAPPENING
When watching the devastating fires on TV it can leave you feeling powerless and unable to do anything.
But, this is not true and there are many simple things we can do as individuals, families, households and communities to mean the fires we have just experienced don’t become the new normal.
Being prepared is the key. Simple examples of things that can be done to ensure future bushfires are not as bad as those we’ve just seen include:
• Adopt or retrofit your property to make sure it’s more bushfire safe
• Clean out your property gutters and cut back vegetation several metres from your home to reduce the chances of fire catching alight
• Develop, talk about and act on a household fire plan
• Turn off gas mains/disconnect gas bottles
• Hose down/wet the side of house and garden facing approaching fire
• Fill baths, bins, buckets and sinks with water
• Move furniture away from windows
• Become a firefighting volunteer and be trained and learn how to fight and survive bushfires
For lots more simple and handy tips of things you can do, check out the Rural Fire Service Bushfire survival guide.
Professor Dale Dominey-Howes is the Director of the Asia-Pacific Natural Hazards and Disaster Risk Research Group at the University of Sydney
By Daisy Turnbull Brown
While politicians bicker over the idea of a “well-being budget”, schools are already spending theirs.
Well-being, mental health, resilience, suicide prevention – call it what you want – schools are running programs that promote student and staff well-being and are doing so without a specific budget.
We constantly hear about the mental health issues teenagers are dealing with. One in 14 children aged between four and 17 experienced anxiety in 2015. About half of young people with a mental health issue report being embarrassed to discuss it with anyone, or are afraid of what others think.
According to the Productivity Commission’s report on Mental Health, “under-investment in prevention and early intervention” is a key driving factor for the mental health issues we face, meaning that too many people live with mental ill-health for too long.
We are at a turning point for mental health in Australia, especially after the summer bushfires in which thousands of families lost their homes. We are seeing more honesty about the psychological trauma caused by the fires from Transport Minister Andrew Constance than we ever have before.
Chalmers’ argument that the GDP doesn’t “paint the whole picture” of Australia is similar to the argument that HSC results need to be considered in the light of deteriorating student mental health. We cannot have constant economic growth if our population is increasingly depressed and anxious.
Student mental health is fundamental to making Australia stronger, because students who are more resilient and optimistic perform better. It is not about choosing one over the other, it is about developing students of great intellect and character.
At St Catherine’s we track student well-being, as well as alumnae surveys on how prepared they are to manage university and work stress compared to the rest of their cohort. Over 90 per cent of our alumnae see themselves as aware of the benefits of positive psychology elements including mindfulness, growth mindsets and academic resilience.
However, well-being programs should not be the competitive advantage of some independent schools, but standard across all schools.
When people overseas ask me about Australian schools, I tell them that we have some of the best schools in the world — but they are not for all of our children.
International reviews have proved that the Australian school system is one of the most unequal and socially segregated among the rich countries of the world.
This is not a recent finding. During the last decade, evidence from abroad and findings in our own studies have called for a change of course in policies — and the politics behind them — that drive school education in Australia.
Four elite private schools spent more on new facilities than the poorest 1,800 schools combined, an ABC investigation has revealed.
The question is: why do we continue to believe that schools will get better by doing things that all successful education systems have found to be ineffective?
Australian education used to be admired
Not so long ago, Australian education was admired by many countries as a forward-looking and inspiring model for them and others.
When the OECD's PISA study first appeared in 2000, all eyes were turned on the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia.
Sadly, today we are not anymore among those progressive and future-looking education systems that lead the way and provide good learning for all children.
Instead, we are seen as having a conservative, ineffective and outdated school system moving backwards in time.
The reason for Australian education to drop from the world class to the second league in international outlook is not because of declined student achievement in reading, mathematics and science in PISA and other comparative studies.
A more important reason is a steady decline in social equality and growing inequity in school education.
Evidence from the OECD that regularly compares the world's education systems shows that successful education systems invest much more in equity of education outcomes than we do.
In other words, they focus on the education of children with special educational needs, support child wellbeing and health in every school, and allocate resources and targeted help to schools based on their true needs.
World-class education nations don't do what seems to be our main strategy: Insist schools compete against one another, use toxic accountability measures to control and measure what schools do, and hold teachers as scapegoats for plunged education rankings.
Teachers and kids are not the problem
The top ranking education systems aren't there by accident
Hong Kong, Singapore and other high performing countries did not improve their education system by chance. They did it by design. And we can do it too.
Teachers are often the first ones to blame when we look for reasons why schools don't get better.
Therefore, solutions to fix the learning crisis often start there.
Recently school reformers have suggested that teachers should be allowed to use only evidence-proof teaching methods, they should be paid based on student outcomes, and that "superstar" teachers should be sent to teach in the most disadvantaged schools.
Indeed, there is a learning crisis in Australia. But it is not a crisis of students' learning and teachers' teaching in schools.
The real learning crisis is the education system's inability to learn — via existing evidence and from other education systems — how to improve teaching and learning in every school.
Students and teachers suffer from these systemic learning difficulties that we must fix before things overall will get any better.
One of the first things our education systems need to learn is that the most important factor in improving the quality of education is not its teachers.
Half a century of systematic research has shown that teachers account for about 10 to 15 per cent of the variability in students' test scores.
A similar amount of variability is associated with other school factors, such as curriculum, resources and leadership.
This means that most of the influence on students' educational achievement lies outside school — in homes, communities, peer groups and students' individual characteristics.
Make no mistake, teachers are the most influential part of school.
We should stop thinking that teachers have the power to overcome all those inequalities that many children bring to school with them every day.
'Astounding' data exposes the myth of the 'education revolution'
Thousands of public schools receive less public funding than similar private schools, an ABC News investigation has found.
As soon as we accept this fact, then we also understand that the majority of opportunities for improving quality of education are found in the system-level conditions.
Equity is the answer
Strengthening equity in education has become a common strategy in most successful education systems today.
These measures include high-quality early childhood education as a basic right for all children, preventive support for children and families in their health and wellbeing, allocating money to schools to offer individualised help to all children, and investing in teacher collaboration and professionalism to advance school improvement.
There is a lot to learn from around the world about how to build fairer and more inclusive education systems here at home.
But our education systems must be much better in learning how to do that.
Accepting that to continue using the same old policies that have taken us to this miserable situation is a bad idea would be a good start.
Then, we should adopt coherent education policies that are supported by evidence and research, rather than the current haphazard intervention efforts that are often rejected by world-class school systems.
Pasi Sahlberg is professor of educational policy and deputy director at the Gonski Institute for Education in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales.
Thursday, 5 March 2020
Under Scott Morrison, 99% of public schools will not reach the minimum resource standard they need by 2023. This new bill is designed to ensure private schools aren't “disadvantaged” if they are "only" funded to 100% of that standard. Victorian public schools will only reach 90% of the SRS in that timeframe. Essentially, it would deliver private schools billions of dollars in additional funding as “compensation”.
While the bill might be designed to appear fair by taking into account the personal income of a family attending a school, it does not take into account a school's income, wealth or assets including alumni fundraising, trust funds and endowment funds. Incredibly, it doesn't take into account the fees paid to the school by parents!
The Morrison government already provides private schools with special funding deals, including the $1.2b ‘choice and affordability’ fund and $1.9b for school buildings and infrastructure.
The federal government’s own estimates show that this bill could see private schools receiving an additional $3.4 billion in Commonwealth funding over the next decade.
The Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee is conducting an Inquiry into the bill and we will work with other AEU branches around Australia and the federal office to make a submission as one step to resist what is a fundamentally an unfair law which provides extra resources to schools which need them the least.