Spike in reported assaults has silver lining

New figures reveal that almost 1,000 Queensland teachers and principals have lodged claims for workplace assaults in the past five years, losing more than 11,000 work days to injuries.

The figures – released under Freedom of Information laws by Queensland’s Education and Training Department this week – show the scale of violence in schools across the state.

Over the past five years, there were 33 teachers or principals who needed more than 100 days off work to recover. In 2013-14, there were 187 claims with 2,826 days lost..

Assaults peaked in 2014-15 with 235 claims lodged, and 2,855 claim days paid. There was a drop last financial year, with 167 claims lodged and 1,453 claim days paid.

However, Queensland Teachers Union (QTU) president, Kevin Bates, told The Educator the fact that more educators are coming forward about being assaulted shows an important – and positive – shift in attitudes

“We built a data set – not by going out and encouraging people to make a claim – but rather by saying ‘don’t forget that you need to report these incidents whenever they happen’,” Bates said.

“Otherwise, the system is not aware that they’re happening, and that is a real concern.”

Bates pointed out that Queensland has had a “significant” advertising campaign targeting health professionals.

“This campaign has driven a very positive message around telling the public that health professionals are there to help them. It’s basically saying ‘these people are trying to help you – the last thing they need is to be assaulted’,” he said.

“This has now extended into the school context where we have a ‘respect our teachers’ and ‘respect our schools’ campaign. This is about people being educated about the fact that when they enter a school, there is an expectation on their behaviour, just as there is an expectation on student behaviour.

“As more people become aware that violence is happening, more people report it. It builds a kind of momentum in schools as opposed to teachers keeping these incidents to themselves.”

In August, South Australian Secondary Principals Association (SASPA) president, Peter Mader, told The Educator that a spike in the number of incidents lodged in his state’s schools was likely due to principals’ practice of “over-reporting”.

“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.”

Violence and bullying against principals and teachers has received national attention since the release of the Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety & Well-being Survey reports.

The last survey revealed that rates of actual violence had increased from almost 27% in 2011 to 42% in 2015.