Second Reading: Education and Training Reform Amendment (Protection of School Communities) Bill 2021

I rise to speak on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Protection of School Communities) Bill 2021. The key purpose of this bill is to amend the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 to provide for orders prohibiting or regulating certain conduct on school premises or school-related places in order to protect members of the school communities from harmful, threatening or abusive behaviour.

Basically it is a new law that has come about because of changes that are occurring and the risk that is occurring in schoolyards that is putting principals and teachers and even the children, I imagine, at risk due to some poor behaviours. Clearly that is a bill that we would support, given that it is totally reasonable to expect good behaviour, especially around children, in school environments and any really poor behaviour does need to be addressed.

You would ask, ‘Well, what’s wrong with our current laws and why can’t we currently deal with this?’. Well, the only law that is available, really, to principals is the trespass law, which is only really able to be exercised in the Supreme Court and that process is not a process that is affordable, let alone nimble and flexible enough to address the situation when you have got emotions running high and people acting in a very unreasonable and unsatisfactory manner. So we support the bill.

In fact for me it is an interesting time to think about why we are needing to have these sorts of changes. When I became the member for South-West Coast, having been a parent of children for many, many years and having been involved with the school very actively with all four of my children and now my grandson, it surprised me just how much work principals did.

I was actually on school councils, very involved in the parents and friends, clearly very active in raising funds and doing all the things that most parents who have children in small communities do because you have to to be able to get the school to be the best it can be.

So the first thing I say is, even though I was so very intricately involved in the system for many, many years, I was absolutely very surprised at the extent of the workload of principals. I went around to all the schools in my electorate—and there are many—and that was one of the things in the first 12 months that really stood out to me, just how hard principals work and how much pressure they are under. So I can understand why they feel they need to be supported, and I am very comfortable that we do things like this law change.

As I say, over the last 28 years I have had experience in the school and education system, going from with my son who turns 33 this month to my youngest, who is still in school, and my grandson who started school this year, who I have great pleasure in being able to pick up every second Friday and be with in the class for a short period of time.

I think that is really important as a parent or grandparent, and I think we should encourage that. Most people do do that, and it is really important and really healthy for the school environment to have very active parent involvement in doing reading and whatever else. So whilst we encourage that, what we cannot allow is this abhorrent behaviour, and we must put protections in place and that is what this bill does.

But I keep asking myself: why have I noticed such a massive change in the 28 years that I have been involved? I have seen deterioration in the behaviour of the community of parents, less parents wanting to be actively involved or able to be actively involved in the fundraising activities.

And I think to myself, ‘Well it is because of the things that, when I was in the Family and Community Development Committee, we identified and heard from many of the people who came in and talked to us for the different inquiries that we undertook’, and that was that the families are under enormous pressure. So it is great that we put this law in place, and I totally agree and support that. But I think we should take a bit of a step back and ask, ‘Why is it that families are under so much pressure that they are behaving sometimes so badly?’.

Now, they love their children and they want the best for their children and, yes, they can get emotionally too het-up, and that results in this, but what is causing that? We can see the extended family has disappeared over the last 40 years. We do not have Grandma and Grandpa, we do not have aunts, uncles and cousins and the kids do not have those mentors that they once had around them. That is the sort of thing that we saw in the Family and Community Development Committee I was on when we had inquiries.

I see organically growing programs in my electorate that are clearly trying to address that, and a few stand out. Some of them are things like Standing Tall, and I really commend the work that Standing Tall does right throughout my region. I look at Matty Stewart, who has been the face behind that program. It gets kids a mentor in their life, where someone from the community comes in and once a week for an hour just develops that relationship. It is fantastic.

And there are programs like Big Life that Shane Wilson is running, and the Hands On Learning programs, where kids can feel very involved. These give kids more feelings of value, because it is when parents get often very upset because they feel their children are not getting that support that they need or the system is not working for their child that they take it out on people like the principals.

I just see so much good from our principals. I remember going to Hawkesdale P12 College and Colan Distel, the principal there, had just taken a child to a dental appointment—a principal taking a child to a dental important. Hawkesdale is half an hour from the closest dentist, and he said he had to—the child was in pain and there was no other option. He just could not leave the child in pain.

So these are the extraordinary lengths that even our principals have to go to with the changes that we see in the school environment that we would not have had 30 years ago when I first that started as a parent or when I was a child. So things have changed, and I think we need to put some funding behind these programs like Standing Tall, like Big Life, like Hands On Learning.

We have got to keep our kids engaged, keep them feeling valued, and that way we will have a system that actually really is flexible and nimble for all types and styles of learning and capabilities. The WAVE School is another amazing program in my part of the world, where kids who are not academically inclined and a little bit disengaged and who often come from family environments that are challenging are really given that extra support.

I remember when I started in this role one of the principals told me there were about 120 kids that were not in the system—they had fallen out of the system and no-one knew where they were—around the ages of 12 to 13. And I just thought to myself, ‘You know, these are kids. What can we do better?’ We cannot just accept that that is reasonable, that we just give up on a kid. They are children. I really commend the programs like the WAVE School.

There is something in Portland called ‘re-engaging a disengaged community’ or something like that. I cannot remember, but it is another really good program in Portland.

So I 100 per cent agree that we have to put rules and laws like this in place, because we have allowed people to deteriorate and get away with speaking disrespectfully and even becoming quite violent in schoolyards—or accident and emergency, which has been my experience in the past—which never happened a long time ago.

But when these people are distressed and at their wits end or trying to get the best for their child, whilst we must put these in place, we need to think about what more we can do as a society to also make sure we are embracing all the capabilities that children have. Not everyone is going to be an academic, and just giving academics an opportunity in a classroom is not the only approach.

Maybe going back to technical schools—that always worked very, very well for kids. There are lots of things I think we have done well in the past that we can pick up and do well in the future. We must always give our children our priority—even though at 4.15 pm my daughter is currently ringing me now and I am definitely not going to take that call in the chamber. She has just finished school and is ringing for her evening call to Mum, which is lovely—but no, not right now.

I really do commend this bill. I think we can do so much more for our children. I do not believe we should give up on 11-year-olds who have decided the education system does not work for them. I think we can be nimble, flexible and lateral. Making sure that every child feels they are valued is not beyond us as a challenge—and looking for ways to celebrate the strengths of each individual and find things that they are able to contribute to society to feel valued. If we focus and aim for that with every single individual, we will be a much better society for it.

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