Violence in schools on the rise

Primary school leaders are experiencing far more violence than people in other professions and Mid Canterbury principals are no exception.

A health and wellbeing survey carried out by the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) Te Riu Roa has revealed that school leaders experience physical violence at 10 times the rate of the general population and threats of violence at nearly five times.

In 2017 41 per cent of principals, deputies and their assistants experienced physical violence and 38 per cent were subjected to threats in 2017.

Both rates had increased from about 28 per cent in 2016.

Those doing the bullying were other adults 96 per cent of time, most often parents, but also colleagues, managers or subordinates.

Mid Canterbury Principals’ Association president Tim Kuipers said he thought violence was definitely present within Mid Canterbury schools.

He could not speak on behalf of other schools about the NZEI findings, as he had not directly spoken with them about the report, but said most local principals would have more than one story to tell about violent incidents.

“I don’t think it happens every day, but it is frequent enough to be a concern. The majority of parents and families in Mid Canterbury are good, but one or two can cause issues,” he said.

“I’d say at any [local] school it’s happening far more often than once a year.”

NZEI Te Riu Roa had proposed a number of recommendations, including that resourcing and staffing be increased to support the growing number of students with challenging behaviours.

It also called for school boards to uphold safe environments in schools, a mediation service for families and schools, regular teacher training in responding to violent situations, increased mentoring and counselling, and more thorough investigations of violent incidents and bullying.

Kuipers said he thought the majority of the suggested changes would be “of value” to schools, but he would also like to see the root cause of the problem targeted.

“We need to look at the reasons why there has been an increase in bullying,” he said.

“Making changes in schools doesn’t actually reduce the problem… we need to find out what is the cause.”

He said where students were acting violently, the home environment needed to be considered.

Where adults were acting in a more abusive and disrespectful manner, larger societal issues needed to be looked at.

NZEI Te Riu Roa president Lynda Stuart said schools need to be safe places for everyone: “creative and compassionate spaces where children can meet their potential, and teachers and leaders can do their jobs free of all types of harassment,” she said.

“There are two parallel issues going on here.

“One is children with learning difficulties trying to access the help and support that they and their families need, and the other is adults whose behaviour in a learning environment is sometimes unacceptable.”

– By Katie Todd