A Canberra school which was described as worse than a war zone has been told some students must stay home until serious risks to health and safety caused by staffing shortages are resolved.
Calwell High School was issued with a WorkSafe ACT prohibition notice after inspectors found teachers and administration staff were being abused, sworn at, screamed at and subjected to sexualised behaviour or violence from students on a daily basis.
The notice issued to the school said teachers were regularly taking classes of more than 40 students due to a chronic shortage of staff and COVID-19 absences, with one instance of a class of 75 students supervised by one teacher and one learning support officer.
The inspectors learned there was a growing number of student mobs forming who would physically target and assault other students, mainly in the year 8 cohort, with the year 7 cohort starting to copy these behaviours.
One teacher had been assaulted the previous week while trying to prevent one student from assaulting another, resulting in a dislocated shoulder, several broken teeth, welts to the lower arm and bruising to the back.
Teachers told inspectors they were exhausted, with one stating the school was "like a war zone, only worse. At least in a war zone you can fight back".
The prohibition notice from Monday, April 4, stated the year 7 and 8 cohorts were prohibited from being on the school premises unless they were going on a pre-arranged excursion.
Vulnerable children, children of emergency workers and children in the learning support unit were permitted to attend.
ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry said the Education Directorate was complying with all WorkSafe ACT requirements.
"Violent incidents like this are rare in ACT public schools. When they do occur we treat them very seriously," she said.
Ms Berry said the directorate had directed extra resources to the school.
The Australian Education Union previously raised the issue of staff shortages and high workloads in June last year.
In July, the directorate promised more resources for the school and issued an apology to all affected staff following a formal industrial dispute process with the union.
Australian Education Union ACT branch secretary Patrick Judge said it was very upsetting to read the prohibition notice.
"We know the community at Calwell High School and we know that they're good people and that the students are good kids and that the teachers, especially, and the other staff out at the school are diligent and hard-working and will go to the ends of the Earth for their students," Mr Judge said.
"And you can see that in what's reported by this prohibition notice. But it's unacceptable for things to have gotten to this point where the school is so under-resourced that we're having these sorts of issues."
Mr Judge said COVID-19 had made the existing staff shortage worse and the school should have gone to remote learning earlier.
The ACT Education Directorate will need to demonstrate Calwell High School can comply with the class sizes policy, which states a maximum of 32 students can be in a class for years 7 to 9, with 30 students the maximum for year 10.
The directorate will also have to demonstrate occupational violence has been reviewed and mitigated and give reasons as to why the school had not already moved to remote learning under the COVID-19 planning for staff shortages guidelines.
An Education Directorate spokesperson said the year 7 and 8 students had transitioned to remote learning for the final week of term.
"Calwell, like all our ACT public schools, has supports in place to help manage complex and challenging behaviours and violence and to tailor an appropriate response when incidents occur," the spokesman said.
"We care greatly about all our teachers and school staff. We continue to work very closely with our workforce through their unions to ensure that all our school staff, including principals, feel supported with their work health and safety and general wellbeing."
The directorate has developed a package of workload reduction strategies to ease the burden on schools in term 2, the spokesperson said.
Parents were on Friday advised year 7 and 8 would be moving to remote learning because of COVID-19, not because of the prohibition notice.
Macgregor Primary School this week sent years 4 to 6 to remote learning due to staffing shortages.
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