Teachers claim burnout at streaming school
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Teachers claim burnout at streaming school

Former Werribee Secondary staff are suing the government for damages.

A Melbourne school that separates its best and worst performing students is under scrutiny after several teachers claimed ‘‘burnout’’ from being allocated too many abusive classes.

Teachers who were allocated low-achieving classes at Werribee Secondary College say they developed stress, anxiety and depression after the school introduced a ‘‘like-achievement’’ grouping model in 2000.

At least four former teachers have taken stress leave, saying their classrooms were full of uncontrollable and disengaged students who encouraged each other’s bad behaviour.

Under the system, students in years 8, 9 and 10 are divided into five streams: select entry, high achievers, medium achievers, low achievers and foundation.

Werribee Secondary is the only Victorian school to divide students into different classes for all subjects based on their academic performance.

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Principal Steve Butyn said the streaming system had sparked debate among staff when it was introduced, with some teachers worried that separating the ‘‘best of the best’’ would also concentrate the ‘‘worst of the worst’’ into very challenging classes.

Former teacher Peter Doulis, 47, said he suffered a major mental breakdown after being forced to teach an ‘‘unfair’’ load of the school’s lowest-achieving classes between 2000 and 2004.

Mr Doulis, who is suing the state government for damages, has told the Supreme Court the lower classes included students who had ADHD, autism, dyslexia and acquired brain injuries, while most of the other students were very badly behaved.

Many students fought each other, broke windows, wrote racist and sexual comments on the whiteboard, made flame-throwers out of aerosol cans, threatened and attacked teachers, and tore up detention notes, he said.

Mr Doulis also told the court that his pleas to school management for fewer difficult classes were ignored.

Mr Butyn said he did not recall having a meeting about the matter.

Other former teachers from the western suburbs school, Paul Unsworth and Ruby Eyiam, who are separately suing the government, told the court about the humiliation and ‘‘shell-shock’’ they felt after teaching the low classes.

Ms Eyiam said she left the school on WorkCover after students in her low classes regularly swore at her, calling her a ‘‘slut’’, a ‘‘f---ing bitch’’ and a ‘‘skanky ho’’.

Mr Butyn said the system had driven up student performance across the board and that the school’s average ATAR scores had soared since the model was brought in.

‘‘Eight years ago our ATAR was approximately 48; now, last year it was just on 75,’’ he said.

Under cross-examination, Mr Butyn revealed there had been a spike in student suspensions between 2002 and 2004 after the introduction of the streaming model.

But he denied this was due to grouping together the worst-performing students, attributing the increase to a crackdown on bad behaviour.

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Claims for past loss of earnings are estimated by Mr Doulis’ legal team to be about $440,000.

The trial before Justice Timothy Ginnane continues.

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