Page 4575 - Week 12 - Thursday, 15 October 2009

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structures, structures that empower students to make responsible decisions and, most importantly, to take responsibility for their own behaviour.

The government aims to reduce these incidents in schools and to put in place policies and procedures that deal effectively with these unfortunate situations if and when they occur. The government has formed the safe schools task force, which brings together key stakeholders to consider issues associated with student safety in our public schools. The education department, principals, ACT police, the Youth Advisory Council, the P&C Council and the Preschool Society all come together on a monthly basis to develop innovative solutions to address ongoing and emerging student safety concerns.

We have had a renewed focus on making our schools safe places and I am pleased to advise the Assembly that this is delivering a return. In 2007-08, there were 74 critical incidents reported in our public schools. In 2008-09, this had halved to 37. I need to state that 37 incidents is not acceptable but it does represent a vast improvement on the previous year’s results and it is something we hope will continue to decline in the future.

Mr Speaker, this week the government sought to move further to strengthen the measures available to principals in our public and Catholic schools to counter violent and unsafe behaviours in students. Unfortunately, the Assembly was unable to reach agreement in relation to these reforms. I consider that unfortunate. I think it is fairly clear from the community feedback in the last few days that there is widespread concern in the community at the failure of the Assembly to adequately address these issues. Suspensions are one of a range of strategies that are put in place to prevent serious student misbehaviour.

MR SPEAKER: Ms Porter, a supplementary question?

MS PORTER: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Would the minister advise the Assembly about the community views in relation to this government’s policy?

MR BARR: There has been widely expressed support for the government’s policy on suspensions and disappointment at the stance of the opposition parties on the issue. Murray Bruce, from the Principals Association, expressed his disappointment that the law was voted down, saying that what they saw as a very good and positive thing had been defeated. Mr Battenally, from the same association, said that the bill was an opportunity to work smarter and that it had been missed. Both principals, on behalf of their association, expressed their dismay at not being consulted by opposition parties.

We also saw the P&C, the Catholic Education Office and the Australian Education Union join principals in expressing their disappointment at the result of the Assembly process. The AEU labelled it a missed opportunity and said it was unfortunate that the suite of options available to principals had been limited. The Catholic Education Office supported the changes. Moira Najdecki said that “they know principals have the wisdom to do the right thing”. Elizabeth Singer, from the P&C, said the law would have allowed principals more time to deal with students and organise support for students rather than having to go through additional paperwork.

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