Primary teachers 'feel unsafe'

A primary school pupil throwing a rock at her principal's head is just one of an increasing number of behavioural issues in Otago primary schools which are making some teachers feel unsafe, the region's principals say.

Otago Primary Principals Association president Steve Hayward and Brockville School principal Ben Sincock said they were not surprised at a recent New Zealand Centre for Educational Research survey of 666 schools, which found one in seven primary teachers had felt unsafe inside their classroom.

They believed the statistic was representative of Otago's primary school teachers.

The principal of Big Rock School at Brighton, David Grant, escaped injury recently when a pupil threw a large rock through his window.

"I was sitting at my desk and I had just stood up to get something off the photocopier.

"A rock came flying through my office window.

"Had I been sitting there, it would have got me right on the side of the head.

"The pupil had run back to class to boast that she had just tried to kill me."

The pupil had since been removed from the school and Mr Grant said while all his teaching staff felt safe in their classrooms at the moment, most said there had been times in their recent careers when they felt unsafe due to aggressive and abusive pupils.

"And it is not just from pupils.

"Sometimes it is from parents and that is not uncommon."

Mr Grant said he had taught at schools in Southland, Taranaki and Marlborough, and believed Otago schools were by far the safest places to teach.

Yet he and his fellow Otago primary principals had noticed the aggression and volatility of pupils was getting worse.

"The language they use towards teachers, their attitude and their aggression has changed dramatically in recent years.

"That is a real concern."

Principals tended to make "lame excuses" for aggressive children and tried to find explanations for their behaviour instead of dealing with it, Mr Grant said.

"We need to raise the standard of expectation and make sure people meet it, rather than just say `Oh, that's the way it is today'.

Nobody will admit there is a problem.

There are too many principals sweeping incidents under the carpet.

"That is not addressing the problem. There needs to be something in place for these kids to go to, to be assisted.

"School does not seem to work for them.

"They are just endangering other pupils who have a right to feel safe at school, as do teachers."

Mr Hayward said the Ministry of Education had established the Interim Response Fund, which allowed schools to apply for funding to get a teacher aide or some other support to deal with volatile pupils within 24 hours.

However, the funding only lasted for a short time.

"What happens when that funding stops? The problem still exists."

He questioned the ministry's commitment.

"We think the initiative has been a good thing.

"But the Government held a summit recently about severe and extreme behaviour, and invited principals to attend and offer advice on long-term solutions.

"But they expected us to pay our own way there.

"How serious are they about solving this problem?"

Mr Sincock said the problem could be solved.

"When I first arrived at Brockville School, there were eight stand-downs in the first month for non-compliant, aggressive behaviour from pupils."

Since then, the school had developed a positive culture which had pupils more respectful and enthusiastic about going to school.

"But all it takes is one aggressive or volatile pupil to transfer to our school and everything changes.

"There needs to be more support provided for these pupils."

Mr Sincock said the issue was a common topic on principals' association meeting agendas across the country.

 

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