Due to parent concerns about the way in which schools manage and respond to violence, Council established a Parent Support Group on Violence in Schools in May 2017. The Group is a forum for parents and carers to share experiences, discuss issues and advise Council on concerns surrounding violence experienced in schools. Council representatives, in turn, have presented to the Education Directorate the systemic issues and particular concerns highlighted by this group.
Council believes that we need to send a very clear message to everyone involved in our schools that violence is never OK. Violence is, however, a problem we see throughout our society and so we need to acknowledge that all schools will be impacted at some point by violence in some form. This means that it is essential to have good strategies to reduce violence and to respond well when it happens.
“We can’t expect a guarantee that violence will never occur in our schools. But we need to greatly reduce it and to improve the way schools manage and respond to violence,” said Council Policy Officer, Veronica Elliott.
“In the past year or so we have been listening to parents about their family’s experiences with violence and bullying in our schools.”
“While we believe that violence is reasonably well managed at the majority of ACT public schools, some schools need to improve and system-wide approaches and changes are needed,” she said.
“Over time some staff, students and families have been subjected to incidents of violence which have left long-term consequences and trauma. In some cases, the school’s response has been inadequate. Some parents have felt that they are not being listened to.”
“Violence is a community problem, not just a school problem. This means a community approach is needed to find better ways to deal with violence,” said Ms Elliott. “We’d like parents and students to be involved; to have their say. We think that together we can find solutions.”
To make this possible, Council partnered with the Education Directorate on a project named Building Strong and Safe Communities for Learning. The project began earlier this year with two jointly-designed workshops.
For the first, all-day, workshop, Council worked to ensure good parent representation, inviting parents with a special interest in the topic. We also ensured that a wide variety of specialists and experts were present so that the problem and possible solutions could be explored.
A second event is being held early May, as this issue goes to press. All P&C presidents were invited to attend or to pass on their invitation to another parent or carer to represent the school.
In June, there is a final chance for parents and carers to be involved. In the week of June 12-18, there will be a two or three hour event, repeated throughout the week so any parent who wants to attend can hopefully find a session to suit.
This third series of workshops is the most critical part of the project. In addition to providing attendees with a summary of workshops one and two, we will be asking for feedback on what the ideas and suggestions which arose for the other workshops should look like, how they should operate and whether these are likely to reduce and allow for better responses to violence. There will also be opportunities for parents and carers to put forward new ideas and suggestions.
There have been a number of interesting discoveries so far. We’ve found that the language used around violence depends on the roles involved. Specifically, parents and carers tend to use language very differently to schools. Perhaps this explains why some parents have experienced difficulty communicating effectively with schools, and some of the feelings of not being heard.
This project is also showing a general trend of low levels of parental awareness of, and engagement with, valuable programs in reducing violence and bullying in schools, such as the positive behaviour for learning framework (PBL). At Council we are questioning whether the language used by schools to describe these programs is meaningful to parents, whether the language used stops parents getting involved or whether other factors are in play. These questions are some of the many we are looking to explore with the third series of workshops.
The ideas generated in the workshops are aimed at reducing and better managing violence. Possible measures being explored include ways to support families in navigating the system when something goes wrong; and improving the reporting of bullying and violence, in particular making it possible for parents and students to report incidents.
We want as many parents and carers to attend these workshops as possible and have their say on how we can work together to reduce and better respond to violence.
Council welcomes any feedback or experiences from parents. We are still collecting anonymous case studies, and membership of our Parent Support Group is open to all parents and carers.●
This article appeared in ParentACTion Magazine, Term 2, 2019.