Corporal punishment has been outlawed in NT schools for close to two decades. Around the turn of the century, principals in Government Schools were notified that corporal punishment was no longer to be administered. Prior to that time and as far back as the 1970’s, the use of the cane was allowed within strict regulatory parameters.
It is true to say that discipline applied to students was quite harsh in both verbal and physical terms. With the passing of years, anachronistic practices have been streamlined and modified. Behaviour management strategies based on understanding students have been developed and implemented. All schools have behaviour management policies which are included within their improvement action plans. Principles of natural justice underpin these policies. They are ahead of the present Education Act, which when modified will catch up with discipline practices in place within our schools.
Boot On Other Foot
We have moved a long way from the old, historical methods of discipline. Every effort is made to offer safe, secure learning environments to students. The idea for discipline is that it should positively uphold and reinforce 2021 school values.
A key and sinister shift however, is not how discipline impacts upon students but how the softly, softly approach can and does backfire on schools and staff members. This is particularly the case within the public school sector. Student aberrance, deliberate defiance and antisocial conduct raises difficult, sometimes intolerable situations for school staff, along with silent, suffering student majorities. As disciplinary options for principals and their teams have ‘softened’ it seems there has been an escalation in the unacceptable behavioural attitudes of some students. Teachers and other students have to suffer the indignities these behaviours unload on classes and schools.
Nicely worded, affirmative and embracing behaviour management policies, in practical terms, have little impact or influence on this hardline student core. The system appears to have little capacity to deal with manifestly unacceptable conduct, meaning that schools suffer. At the classroom level, about the only countering device and control measure available to teachers are their tongues. In many cases, verbal remonstration has little impact on correcting student behaviour. Principals and school leadership teams are similarly constrained.
Offering engaging educational alternatives within purpose built units for disruptive students has been tried and can make a difference. However, there are far more students needing this support than places available to meet school and system needs.
Student discipline is an area increasingly impacting on health and well-being issues for school staff. A health and well-being survey conducted by the Monash University in 2013 identified student violence and bullying as a key stressor for school leaders (Summary Report pp 7,8). The number of teachers taking long term sickness and stress leave has escalated in the last decade and is largely attributed to student behaviour. Recently a Victorian teacher was awarded $1.3m as compensation for a career disrupted and ruined by student behaviour. According to rumour, this settlement has other educators, who have similarly suffered, considering litigation. ‘Discipline’ is a two-way street, and teachers are increasingly on the receiving end.