One state’s schools have seen the number of critical incidents soar, with some demanding that more counsellors be hired to help schools cope.
Last year, South Australia’s public schools recorded 5,586 ‘critical incidents’ – more than double the incidents recorded in 2012 when the Debelle Royal Commission into abuse against schoolchildren was launched.
‘Critical incidents’ are serious incidents which may cause serious disruption or danger to students or staff.
According to the reports, outlined in South Australian Education Department data, incidents of self-harm quadrupled from 107 to 459 from 2012 to 2015, while violent incidents rose from 877 to 1,604 in the same period.
Reports of sexual abuse more than tripled from 47 to 165 between 2012 and 2014 and those of inappropriate sexual behaviour rose even more steeply from 119 to 459 over that period, before significant drops in both categories last year.
The Debelle Royal Commission was launched in 2012 after a mother revealed that parents had not been told of a rape at a western suburbs school for two years. The media attention her complaints received prompted more victims to come forward, which ultimately informed the inquiry.
Australian Education Union (AEU) state president, Howard Spreadbury, has called for the hiring more school counsellors to help cope with the rising number of incidents.
However, SA Secondary Principals Association (SASPA) president, Peter Mader, told The Educator that the spike was probably due to principals’ practice of “over-reporting” rather than radically different behaviours – or the number of them – being exhibited in schools.
“Because of the context for the introduction of this system, school leaders have taken a risk adverse view to the reporting of incidents; that is, it is better to report something that is not critical enough to report, than it is to not report something that could be deemed to be critical,” he said.
“Given that the view of many leaders is that this issue is not about an increase in incidents but more about an increase in reporting of incidents, statistics are likely to reflect a downwards trend once leaders feel less ‘risk adverse’ around the reporting.”
However, Mader pointed out that that was “not to suggest that terrible things do not happen in our schools” and that principals continue to do their best to minimise the risks to students and staff in a pro-active way.
“When events happen, school leaders exhibit quality procedural responses to address the issue and to manage the needs of individuals, groups and/or the school community,” he said, pointing to e-crime as “a major trending issue”.
“A good example of this is last week’s Brighton Grammar incident in Melbourne where two students were expelled for setting up an inappropriate Instagram site,” he said.
“A common response to this trend is for our schools to make adjustments and improvements to cyber-safety practices.”