Post-Primary Teachers Association president Robin Duff called the situation “intolerable”.
He said, in the PPTA News, the teachers’ union could not continue to be “complicit in this conspiracy of silence” that concealed the level of violence within schools.
He said competitiveness in schools gave them an incentive to hide issues of violence towards teachers and staff, and some schools didn’t want police involved because it could lead to negative publicity.
The national executive was “particularly concerned” to learn that some schools were actually forbidding teachers from reporting instances to police.
In one case a teacher was sitting in their classroom eating lunch when a student walked in and punched them in the face. The school told the teacher not to go to police because it would be dealt with internally. Nothing happened.
Another a teacher was shoved in the chest and their lunch was taken.
There were also numerous reports of teachers being punched, kicked or threatened, and property including cars and houses, being vandalised.
One teacher said every teacher knew a colleague who had been verbally abused, physically threatened or suffered instances with students out of control and a risk to themselves and others.
“Senior management of schools are under pressure to reduce instances of suspension and expulsion and we all know of instances where there is pressure not to report assaults on persons, or criminal damage to teachers’ property.”
As a result the PPTA had issued members with an instruction to report assaults on teachers to police. By issuing an instruction rather than a recommendation it hoped teachers in “all kinds of schools would do it” making it less likely that individual schools could be singled out.
It also reissued an anti-violence toolkit with a 10 point flow chart on what to do in the event of an assault.
It said teachers should seek advice from a PPTA field officer and not return to work until the school had taken every practical step to eliminate, isolate or minimise hazards.
A trivial application of force in the course of everyday interactions, “mere aggressive behaviour” or an incident where there was no intention to cause harm did not constitute assault it said.
Figures supplied by Statistics New Zealand show there were 567 instances of common assault in schools or other educational institutions reported to police last year.
From 2001 to 2011 the number of serious assaults resulting in injury rose from 50 to 81, and the number of sexual assaults more than trebled from 33 to 116.
The Secondary Principals’ Association was reluctant to support the PPTA’s move.
President Patrick Walsh said he had not seen any evidence of a conspiracy of silence, nor was he aware of principals banning teachers from reporting assaults to police.
“Principals take the issue of staff safety very seriously. We know staff are our greatest asset in the school and we want them to be happy,” he told the Sunday Star-Times.
He agreed that principals should be referring any serious assaults to police, regardless of whether the victim was a teacher or student.
“The days are gone where we define [assaults] as bullying or right of passage. When a student hits a student that is clearly assault and a crime, and should be dealt with.”
Walsh said some schools could be worried by bad publicity associated with assaults, but principals would be foolish to cover up violence against teachers because it could result in a personal grievance case against the school.
He said some schools had handled situations badly in the past, such as that at Hutt Valley High School, which was the subject of a damning Ombudsmen’s Office report last September. Pupils were subjected to torture, extreme violence and sexual abuse, but school authorities failed to protect victims, alert parents or report numerous attacks to police, the report found.
IMOGEN NEALE AND MARIKA HILL
– © Fairfax NZ News
From the Smiths:
Updated 30 March 2012: Life for Those Left Behind (Craig Smith’s Health)
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