This was published in the NT Suns Newspapers on March 5 2019 under the title In defence of teachers.
While relating to one particular case, the matter of teachers being under appreciated when it comes to reporting issues, happens far too often. Teachers make good scapegoats.
A Sunday Territorian headline (24 February 2019) ‘Teachers failed to save kids’ deserves a response. The story reported that “ a judge has lambasted teachers at a Darwin school for failing to protect children who were being sexually abused by a after school worker. … Justice Anthony Graham was scathing of the “failure” of school authorities … to act on “warning signals” (apparent) as early as November 2013.”
Any abuse of children is deplorable and the perpetrator has drawn a sentence that reflects the gravity of his actions.
However, I am concerned the story fails to recognise that teachers concerned acted responsibly and met the scope of reporting requirements expected of them.
Requirements about mandatory reporting of suspected misconduct against children are covered by Department of Education policy. The need for teachers and educators to be vigilant on matters of student welfare are embedded within the administration of every Territory school.
These policies and procedures have been in place for many years. They are regularly revised and updated as necessary.
Principals of all schools are required to conduct an inservice that covers all aspects of mandatory reporting at the beginning of each semester. The program covers guidelines on the ‘mandatory reporting of harm and exploitation of children’. The inservice is supported by a powerpoint presentation that can be printed and distributed to staff.
All staff are required to sign a document confirming they have been inserviced. Their names, together with a principal declaration which includes an attendance sheet, is sent to the Department of Education.
This program extends to include all people employed or who offer volunteer services at the school. This includes outside school hours care staff members.
In the case reported by the Sunday Territorian, the school adhered strictly to this policy. “The matter was raised with the child’s mother and a report was made to child protection services but … the matter was not referred to police … .” (Op cit.). In this and on subsequent occasions, reporting requirements were met by the school.
Judith Aisthorpe ( Lawler defends conduct, NT News, 25/2/2019) cites Acting Education Minister Eva Lawler who confirmed that “ … all mandatory reporting obligations … were fulfilled by teachers and the school.”
Council of Government School Organisations President Tabby Fudge is reported as saying “ … the children were let down by departments …”
I do not accept that the Education Department or the school should have been held to blame for this sad happening. Judicial criticism of their actions was misplaced. Teachers and school principals adhere to the highest of reporting standards.