'We need to get tougher': Govt takes aim at bullying

The Western Australian government is considering automatic suspensions for violent students in a push to improve school safety.

Under the changes being discussed, schools would be required to strengthen the processes for a student's return to school so support is in place to help improve the student's attitudes and behaviours and achieve a long-term reduction in violence and aggression.

“I am shocked and appalled by some of the violence we have seen in our schools this year and something has to change – we need to get tougher,” WA Education Minister, Sue Ellery, said.

"The majority of students do the right thing and come to school ready to learn and contribute, but we do not want to continue hearing stories about students or staff being attacked in places that are designed for learning.”

Ellery said called on school communities to help tackle the issue by educating children about respectful behaviour.

“I'm under no illusion that this is a big issue and it will be impossible to completely eradicate violent incidents, but we must do better,” she said.

“To do that, we need the support of the whole community. These issues do not start and finish with the school bell and schools alone cannot address this. We all have a responsibility to teach our young people that violence is never the answer.”

Earlier this year, Ellery announced a review of the current policies and procedures to prevent and respond to violence in schools, after videos were released showing shocking violent fights between students.

In addition to automatic suspensions, the government is also considering a ‘good standing’ policy, which will see violent students barred from participating in school social activities until they begin demonstrating positive behaviour.

The government’s final action plan will be developed in consultation with stakeholders and will involve policy, school and community responses with support for students, school support staff, teachers, school leaders and parents.

Consultation with the public school sector will continue over coming months as the Violence in Schools Action Plan is developed, and will be released later this year to be implemented from 2019.

WA Secondary School Executives Association (WASSEA) president, Armando Giglia, said the state’s public secondary schools are likely to welcome the Minister’s announcement.

“[The Minister’s announcement] is a way of widening the debate that violence in our communities is both unacceptable and a shared responsibility,” Giglia told The Educator.

“This is not a public school issue – violent and disruptive behaviour can happen in any community, and so it can happen in any school too.

“We should ensure that students, parents and community members have the confidence that the disruptive behaviour of a small minority of students and dare I say, sometimes of their parents, does not take the majority of our time and attention; that should be reserved for teaching and learning.”