Something needs to be done about increase in violence in WA schools

The alarming increase in violent incidents plaguing our schools has stirred a profound sense of concern and urgency.  

It is unconscionable that our students and educators are forced to confront such perilous situations on a daily basis.  

As we witness principals, teachers, and school staff depart in droves, exhausted and traumatized by the relentless onslaught of verbal and physical violence, it becomes abundantly clear that action must be taken.  

Recently this newspaper reported a survey of Australian school principals. It revealed 56 per cent of Australian principals who were surveyed are now so stressed they want to quit their job. 

The potential loss of these leaders in our education system should send shivers down the spines of parents and the teaching community. 

Distressingly, according to the Australian Primary Principals’ Association, schools are now resorting to hiring security guards to protect students and staff from the uplift in aggression and outright violence in classrooms and from parents.  

Our schools should be centres of learning, not battlegrounds of fear and danger and harm. 

We need to take steps now, both to address the immediate issues and also to kickstart generational, cultural change within our school system. 

Governments can be more forward leaning in the short term and actively demonstrate their support for staff when they are handling instances of aggression and violence. 

If a student is aggressive or violent, principals and teachers should be backed when they make the tough calls necessary to protect their students, not hauled over coals for suspending those causing harm. 

Our teachers, principals and education staff deserve to go to work every day knowing that their own Department has their back. 

We all know suspending students is not a silver bullet that will magically fix these behavioural issues. 

These students also need and deserve additional, intensive support to address the underlying causes. 

Funding needs to be wisely targeted towards the provision of these wraparound services. 

School suspensions are a stopgap measure, but they won’t solve the problem in the long run. 

As Chair of the Senate Education and Employment References Committee, I recently presented a report on the issue of increasing disruption in Australian classrooms.  

I spent more than a year examining this issue and what can be done to reduce disruption and maximise student learning time. 

While the inquiry primarily focused on low-level but more frequent instances of disruption, such as calling out in class, rather than these less frequent but more aggressive incidents, it is becoming increasingly clear that these don’t occur as infrequently as they may have in the past. 

The report’s recommendations will help in the long-term by addressing underlying issues, such as the introduction of a ‘behaviour curriculum’, a whole-school approach towards the creation of consistent behaviour cultures and expectations in schools.  

We want to see a calm, predictable and, therefore, safe environment for all students. 

We can set our students up for success by defining expectations around behaviour and training teachers to explicitly teach these expectations to students. Hence, they get it right in the first place, which will reduce the need for punitive consequences. 

Our universities have been put on notice, with their initial teacher education courses due for an update. 

They must include additional units and comprehensive lessons on effective classroom management techniques. 

There is an abundance of research behind the science of learning.  

Schools that employ evidence-based methods of pedagogy like explicit instruction, mastery learning and formative assessment are reaping the benefits, with a reduction in behavioural issues and students also achieving outstanding academic results. 

The safety and well-being of our students and educators must always remain our paramount concern.  

By collectively committing to fostering a culture of respect, support and accountability within our schools, we can create environments where all children have the opportunity to thrive academically and personally, and where educators can fulfil their vital roles with confidence and security. 

Receiving a world-class, quality education is what all our children deserve. 

But that should not be at the expense of students or their teachers’ safety.


Matt O’Sullivan is a Liberal Senator for WA.