| 20.09,19. 05:38 PM |
Bullying and violence inquiry in Canberra schools backs protection orders, social workers
Photo: An ACT Government inquiry into school violence made a number of recommendations. (ABC News: Niki Burnside)
A Canberra boy, mentally crushed by regular bullying, came home to his worried parents and held a butter knife to his throat.
When they told the school's deputy principal about their son's behaviour, "he commented, 'Well, we all know he won't achieve anything with a butter knife.'"
"I could not believe the flippant response," his parents wrote in a submission to an ACT parliamentary inquiry into bullying and violence in schools.
Their tale of frustration was one of many told to the closed inquiry, with parents and students alleging schools often ignored abuse and attacks on children, or minimised their seriousness.
It prompted a raft of recommendations, handed down on Thursday, to improve outcomes for students, including employing full-time social workers in schools and better enforcement of Personal Protection Orders (PPOs).
In one of the most serious cases documented, one mother told the inquiry she was left frustrated when her complaints and a PPO had no impact on her daughter's situation.
The mother felt she had no choice but to move her daughter more than 1,000 kilometres away to live with a relative after the girl was subjected to years of schoolyard beatings which were filmed and shared on social media.
"She had panic attacks about attending school," the mother told the inquiry.
"Every few months the video will resurface again and we go through all the emotions again."
Bullying 'not common' but responses must improve
The inquiry found bullying in Canberra schools was not common, but some cases had been handled poorly due to poor practice, communication, reporting and staff training.
It also found that while principals had "significant autonomy" in deciding how to respond to bullying and violence, few used in-school suspensions, which were "an effective means of behavioural management".
There were also problems with incidents not being reported properly or "fed up appropriately to the directorate".
One family said it took five months for an incident report to be created.
"We were only able to obtain a copy of our own child's witness statement and independent report through [a freedom of information request], and were criticised strenuously by the school and the Education Directorate when we respectfully raised legitimate concerns, asked for accurate records that did not trivialise the incident and in seeking a review of the factors that led to the incident," they said.
In another submission, a mother said her son's school listened attentively to her concerns but did little to manage the bullying itself.
"After every incident I contacted the [Education Directorate] liaison unit to ask for assistance and advice on how to move forward with the situation," she wrote.
"While they provided a great listening post, they were not able to provide any concrete assistance with the management of either the school or help me or my son move forward."
The report also noted that families had suffered financially as a result of bullying, including by bearing the costs of psychological support.
Wide range of actions recommended
The committee tabled 23 recommendations, including allowing students who had been bullied to enrol in public schools outside their local area.
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It advised the Government to work out how to draft PPOs so they be enforced in schools, to keep aggressive students away from their victims.
The report also recommended creating a website or app that allowed parents and students to report directly to the Education Directorate themselves, rather than lodge a complaint first to their school's management.
Kirsty McGovern-Hooley, of the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Association, said this step was needed to ensure better outcomes for children.
"It's very clear that parents want the ability and students want the ability to also report incidents of violence and to have that measure tracked," she said.
She also backed the recommendation for full-time social workers in schools.
However, the committee's chairman, Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson, said while parents' concerns were genuine, bullying was not widespread in ACT schools.
"There are instances of bullying and violence in our schools but they are the exception," he said.