Griffiths / Hard lessons still not learnt

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MOST of us will have experienced poor management in our working lives.

John Griffiths.
John Griffiths.
Given that active psychopathic bullying is frowned upon, it more usually manifests as a form of benign neglect.

And when push comes to shove, I’ve been guilty of it as well.

There’s a job that needs doing, there are no resources to do it by the book, so what to do?

“Delegate it and hope it doesn’t blow up,” is the easy way out.

Maybe, just maybe, the underling being handed the whiffy brown sandwich will find some brilliant way to square the circle.

More often corners will be cut and the unspoken mantra is “don’t get caught”.

Which brings us to last week’s response to the now infamous “kid-in-a-cage” incident at an unnamed Canberra school.

The education system has systematically failed to support teachers dealing with special needs students for a very long time, but a principal in desperation chucking a student in a steel cage has prompted a carefully calibrated response to do as little as possible while appearing to have done enough to make the problem disappear.

(Wasn’t it a very Canberra solution to remove the principal from the school, thus being seen to do something, while maintaining their employment so as to avoid a very ugly unfair dismissal fight in open court?)

There were a few red flags in Joy Burch’s response to the Shaddock review.

Right at the front of the headline we had “Students at the Centre”.

As a motherhood statement it’s hard to fault, but it does raise some questions. Questions such as: “So, teacher safety isn’t at the centre?” or “Which children are at the centre, and at the expense of which other children?”.

Then there’s the very first bullet point in Joy’s list of key initiatives: “$430,000 for innovative approaches to support students in primary schools with complex needs.”

“Innovative” approaches? So not tried and tested approaches then? This looks like another Hail Mary pass to the underlings as the issue gets shoved under the bed.

Further down the list we have: “$90,000 towards professional learning and online training for teachers in complex needs and challenging behaviour”. It will no doubt be a comfort to a 65kg female teacher trying to control a 100kg ball of rage that an online training module is available.

The cage was a symptom of a broader problem that’s very important to us as a broader society.

If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link then our community is only as strong as the public education provided to everyone.

The dirty secret of private education (and I write as an ex-Radford boy) is that most of the benefit comes from the school’s ability to exclude problem children.

“Moral values”, uniforms, structure and discipline are all nice selling points, but across the whole sector the real benefit is that they don’t have to deal with students they don’t want to, a problem that gets dumped on the public system.

This then drives students the other way. If your child is not learning because the teacher spends all their time managing one disruptive and dangerous student what sort of parent wouldn’t cancel the family holiday and spend the money on a private education?

Rather than providing online training modules for hard-pressed teachers to study in their off-duty hours, it may be that a more systemic approach is needed for the children who, often through no fault of their own, shouldn’t be in classrooms until they’re truly ready for it.

That would be a much more expensive reform program, but it would probably pay off in the long term.


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  1. ” shouldn’t be in classrooms until they’re truly ready for it.”
    You of course mean until the classrooms are ready for them, right? Which is why we still have systems of special schools, special classes and then supports within the classroom.

    While inclusive education is the goal, mainstream classrooms aren’t for everyone, at least not with the current levels of supports available. SSPs should be well aware of their obligations not to use restrictive practices (like the “cage” or locking kids in store rooms, or restraining children) and for the principal to condone this was terrible, and I do agree the “moving her on” solution wasn’t really adequate. You can, however, learn from online modules and staff development days about what is a restrictive practice and what isn’t. Training on handling violent situations and using safe containment practices does need to be hands on.

    I’ve seen some pretty awesome teachers who would way less than 65kg handle large teenagers who are having meltdowns related to their autism in very effective ways using both physical and non-physical strategies.

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