Principals call for national zero-tolerance policy

Yesterday, the Western Australian Primary Principals Association (WAPPA) called for legislative changes which would allow mandatory jail terms for those who assault school leaders.

WAPPA president, Stephen Breen, said that such laws are already in place for public officers like police, but should now be extended to principals and deputy principals.
“I don’t think that people realise that principals and deputy principals are eight times more likely to experience a violent assault than the general population. On behalf of our members I’m calling for a zero tolerance approach. Enough is enough,” Breen said.

However, some are calling for the same measures to be rolled out nation-wide in order to bring assaults against principals in all states and territories to a grinding halt.

Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) president, Dennis Yarrington, told The Educator that there needs to be consistency across the states and territories when it comes to cracking down on violence against principals.

“The research shows that this is not a spike or a one-year phenomenon. The government has to recognise that this is an issue about employee safety,” he said.

“Whatever we’ve been trying so far isn’t working. No matter what professional training a principal has, it doesn’t prevent violence.  Our principals and deputy principals are not trained in self-defence – they’re trained to teach and help people.”

“What we’re saying now is that if we can get something established in Western Australia, a similar law might be adopted by other states and territories.”

Victorian principals support tougher measures

Meadowglen Primary School principal, Dr Loretta Piazza, is a state councillor for the Victorian branch of the Australian Principals Federation (APF). She said calls urging zero-tolerance for assaults against school leaders was nothing new in her state.

“We’ve been talking about this in Victoria for a long time now. I’ve been a principal for 20 years and I remember this being a regular topic on the agenda for at least 10-15 years,” Piazza told The Educator.

“I think this is now more out in the open now, however. Philip Riley’s research into principal health and well-being has also helped bring this information out and encourage this debate.”

Australian Catholic University (ACU) associate professor, Philip Riley, told The Educator that when the legislation was originally brought in to protect WA police officers, assaults fell by 29% in 12 months.

“It’s clear that legislation like this has a big impact. The WA Education Department have talked with me about this over a number of years, and I know that they’re keen on this idea” he said.

Governments must walk their talk on principal assaults

Yarrington said that some principals who are assaulted realise that the effort and time that has to be taken to appear in court, defend themselves and prove that the assault took place, are very lengthy and complex.

“However, under the laws being proposed, a parent who assaults a principal will be warned that any physical violence will result in mandatory jail time,” he said.

“Currently, we have an attitude where it’s okay for parents to assault principals. If that’s an attitude that politicians accept, we have to question whether their actions are matching their rhetoric on this issue.”