This column was published in the NT Sun Newspapers on March 12 2019 under the title Violence is a major worry.
A recent Australia-wide study undertaken by Professor Phillip Riley for the Australian Catholic University confirmed an alarming trend towards violence directed at school leaders. “School leaders are almost ten times more likely to be physically assaulted at work than the general population, with women employed at government primary schools the most at risk. … 45 per cent of principals experienced threats of violence during 2018 while 37 per cent were subjected to acts of physical violence.” ( Students, parents attacking teachers, Rebecca Urban, ‘The Australia’, 27/2/2019)
This survey on principal safety and wellbeing has been undertaken annually since 2011. Evidence confirms bullying, threatening and assaulting behaviour as an escalating issue.
Our local school leaders are not exempt from this dire situation. “ … half the Northern Territory’s school principals have been physically attacked at work according to the survey.” (Wave of abuse at principals, Natasha Emeck NT News 27/2/2019). This is appalling! The matter needs to be firmly addressed and not accepted as being normal, tolerated behaviour.
The NT Government and Department of Education uphold the safety of school staff as being a matter of utmost importance. If this position is to have meaning, there needs to be more than acquiescing to the abuse trending towards school leaders. The issue should also be one of the highest priorities on the NT Principals Association agenda.
Principals (and indeed all staff) have a right to feel protected and should not be discouraged from reporting and following through on matters of assault.
Anecdote suggests that over time, the impact of quite serious assaults on school leaders have been downplayed and almost swept under the carpet. Principals should not be made to feel embarrassed about responding proactively to verbal or physical assault. Indeed, response should be encouraged and have the absolute backing of educational authorities and professional associations. The Education Department’s legal arm should be to the fore in supporting principals and prosecuting assailants through the courts.
It is not good enough for principals to be given an annual allowance to fund programs helping them cope with the stress of assault. That is tantamount to accomodating actions which should never occur.
Firm action against abusive students and adults will provide a clear and visible message that school leaders (and teachers) are not prepared to absorb this behaviour. That action has to be paramount. Assault against principals must not be tolerated. The trend must be countered openly, visibly and with full backing by Government, the Education Department and the Principals Association.