ACT teachers are experiencing a high level of workplace injuries as chronic staffing shortages and infrastructure problems exacerbate poor student behaviour, the public school teachers union says.
The Australian Education Union ACT branch said in a budget submission that Education Directorate staff reported nearly 1000 work safety incidents per month in February and March.
Of these, more than 800 each month were related to occupational violence.
The union also submitted that schools routinely could not find casual staff to cover teacher absences and as a result, classes are split up between the remaining teachers, pushing class sizes over limits that the ACT government has agreed to.
Senior industrial officer Patrick Judge said having large classes with students that the teachers are unfamiliar with increased the chance of violent incidents.
"You're not going to know about something that will trigger a negative behaviour from one of the students or you won't be familiar with the work safety controls that have been put in place to manage the potential needs of those students," Mr Judge said.
"Work safety in education settings is heavily dependent on knowing our students.
"On understanding what their needs are and what adjustments we need to make for them, particularly when we're trying to provide an inclusive education that's made much more challenging if we're splitting classes or if we don't have the correct sorts of environments."
These projects should prioritise the identification of strategies that eliminate occupational violence risks, rather than merely mitigating the impacts of occupational violence.Australian Education Union ACT
Mr Judge said the union had been asking for data from the Education Directorate to document the severity of the teacher shortage.
He said the high number of reported workplace injuries could be related to an increase in reporting or an actual increase in incidents.
Occupational violence was in the spotlight in 2019 during a Legislative Assembly inquiry into violence in school.
A survey released earlier this year revealed ACT principals were exposed to the highest rates of physical violence in the country.
Mr Judge said significant progress had been made on occupational violence issues, but infrastructure problems and teacher shortages were exacerbating the risks.
"One of the things that members have reported to us in terms of infrastructure is not having access to appropriate withdrawal spaces when they're dealing with students with high needs," he said.
In its budget submission, the union recommended that the government direct more resources to projects that focus on driving down violence at schools.
"These projects should prioritise the identification of strategies that eliminate occupational violence risks, rather than merely mitigating the impacts of occupational violence," the submission reads.
The union also made numerous recommendations around staffing and infrastructure.
In response to the submission, an Education Directorate spokesperson said any form of violence in workplaces was not acceptable.
"That's why public schools have focused strongly on building a positive reporting culture around the reporting of occupational violence, as well as putting in place support for teachers and school leaders to prevent occupational violence and respond appropriately," they said.
The spokesperson cited the directorate's occupational violence and complex case management team, which includes health professionals, as part of the commitment to safety.
"In addition to, there is a directorate-wide focus on the issue of occupational violence and a recognition that all areas of the directorate hold a responsibility when it comes to addressing occupational violence matters," they said.
As for infrastructure, the government's investment in developing safe and inclusive environments - including sensory spaces and outdoor courtyards - across public schools was cited.
"These areas have been carefully designed and established in collaboration with schools and allied health experts to ensure they are safe, appropriate and meet the needs of students," the spokesperson said.
They also said the directorate had "conducted targeted and strategic recruitment campaigns of teachers and education professionals" and will continue to address the staff shortage.
"Australia is experiencing a nation-wide teacher shortage. The directorate acknowledges that the availability of relief teachers can be a challenge in ACT public schools," they said.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: