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ACT Catholic schools look to expand data on violence

Posted on 1 April 2019
ACT Catholic schools look to expand data on violence

Above: Canberra Goulburn Catholic Education Director Ross Fox is looking to amend the way data is managed

Parent groups and the Australian Education Union are pushing for consistency in reporting of school violence across sectors, saying non-government schools in the ACT still largely operate under a veil of secrecy.

But the Catholic Education Office, which already collects some data on incidents, has revealed it is now looking to overhaul its own internal reporting policies, including introducing an online portal where teachers can directly log occupational violence in line with the public school system.

In the past year, the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn recorded 183 serious or "traumatic" incidents in its schools across both the ACT and NSW, according to data provided to The Canberra Times.

The archdiocese, which runs 29 schools in the ACT and 27 across the border, said those numbers could include assault, serious injury and threats but also covered major vandalism, public health concerns or natural disasters as violence was not categorised in its data. During the same period, there were 16 injuries to staff involving students, some of which were accidental.

Private schools keep their own records but do not report incidents to a central association.

All schools in Canberra are bound by laws concerning workplace safety and reporting child abuse or neglect. But, under a memorandum of understanding with the ACT government, Catholic and independent schools are only required to inform the education directorate every six months about "critical incidents" causing severe impact on a school. These include a siege or terrorist attack, natural disasters, lock-downs or evacuations or a death on campus.

Non-government schools reported four critical incidents in the first half of 2018, all of which were lock-downs or evacuations in private schools, according to the most recent available data.

In 2017, there was one lock-down or evacuation at a Catholic school and two at private schools, as well as two suspicious disappearances or removals of children from Catholic campuses.

ACT public schools are required to report any incident to the directorate that results in serious harm or injury, puts the safety of students, staff or visitors at significant risk, or poses a threat to property, including critical incidents.

The directorate records and tracks violence against teachers but not incidents between students.  Over the coming year, the roll-out of a new IT system in schools is expected to centralise student violence data and improve accountability in schools, amid recent complaints about the handling of schoolyard attacks.

Veronica Elliot at the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens' Associations said the group had long been calling for all ACT schools to abide by the same reporting requirements, saying those imposed on non-government schools were far less rigorous.

But she stressed that reporting mechanisms needed to improve across all sectors.

"There needs to be more consistency and we would like parents to be able to formally report incidents," Ms Elliot said.

Andrew Wrigley at the Association of Independent Schools of the ACT said it was appropriate for both public and Catholic schools to report to their system heads - the directorate and archdiocese respectively - but independent schools were not part of a system.

"Independent schools keep a close eye on their own data, we don't have one [system-wide] policy," he said.

Ross Fox at the Catholic Education Office acknowledged the archdiocese's current reporting procedures were designed to get extra support into schools rather than record violence.

As in the public system, Catholic principals have the authority to respond to incidents as they see fit, supported by a full-time wellbeing team at the office.

Brad Gaynor, Principal of Holy Spirit Primary and head of Catholic Principals Association

"We'll be in constant contact, we'll have meetings to go over strategies, we might send our team out to assess a situation...whether [they need] additional staff or training," Mr Fox said.

The office now plans to deepen its own internal data collection, he said, and was looking closely at recent occupational violence reforms in the ACT public system.

"We're looking at how we can capture all that lower-level information kept by the school to be more proactive... and inform further analysis and earlier intervention," he said.

"I wouldn't say [violence] is going up but the complexity of needs students have is increasing."

Every five years, policies in non-government schools are reviewed as part of their registration process in the ACT. But a directorate spokesman confirmed this does not require schools to report the number or detail of incidents.

In February, the ACT introduced a suite of new measures to force non-government schools to implement recommendations from the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.

Mr Fox said the archdiocese was already in conversation with the government about revisiting the terms of its agreement on critical incident reporting throughout the course of this year.

A new $500,000 trial had also been rolled out, training one staff member at each Catholic school as a "child safe advocate".

Peter Grace at the Council for Catholic School Parents said families were broadly confident in the way incidents were dealt with and complaints about violence were not common.

"But [schools would benefit] from guidelines around consistency with respect to how incidents are handled and reported," he said.

By: Sherryn Groch

From: Canberra Times 1/4/2019

Tags: wellbeing

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