Violence, drugs up 40% in Illawarra schools

Assaults, threats, weapons and drugs have become increasingly common in Illawarra schools, with the latest government figures showing a 40 per cent rise in the number of serious incidents reported during the first half of last year.

Schools in the Illawarra South East Region - which stretches from the Illawarra to the Victorian border - reported 79 serious incidents in the first two terms of 2013, compared with 56 incidents in the same time period in 2012.

This spike is on par with a statewide increase, which saw 772 serious incidents recorded at schools in the first half of last year, compared with 534 incidents in the first half of 2012.

Keira MP and opposition education spokesman Ryan Park on Friday labelled the rises "alarming".

"Any increase in the number of assaults, or incidents involving weapons and drugs in our schools is extremely alarming," he said.

"Our schools should be ... a place where young people can learn in a positive environment and where teachers can work without the fear of being attacked or injured."

According to the report there were 131 assaults, 59 incidents involving weapons, 27 related to drugs and 74 serious threats across the state over two terms.

In the Illawarra South East region, there were 27 assaults, 13 incidents involving weapons, nine related to drugs and 18 serious threats.

Compared with 10 other NSW education regions, this area ranked fifth in term one and fourth in term two, with Western Sydney and the Hunter/Central Coast recording the most incidents.

Mr Park called on the government to increase resources for school counsellors and provide additional places for students with behavioural problems.

"Schools will always have students with complex and challenging emotional and behavioural problems to deal with - but when we see record levels such as this the government has a duty to do everything possible to reverse this trend," he said.

NSW Teachers Federation regional organiser Nicole Calnan echoed Mr Park's calls, saying teachers and students needed strong support systems when "infrequent" serious incidents occurred.

"It's important to note that these serious incidents are few and far between, but when they do occur the schools need resources to support staff and students and to minimise the risk of these happening again," she said.

Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said schools remained "overwhelmingly safe" and that, each term, about 90 per cent of schools did not experience a single reportable incident.

"But we expect students to behave in an appropriate manner and, when they don't, we have given principals authority to take strong action," Mr Piccoli said.

"Unacceptable behaviour, including criminal acts, is not tolerated in our schools."

Threats in our schools

• A female student became distressed in class and threw pencils at another student. When the girl ran out of class, the deputy principal tried to diffuse the situation, but the girl threatened and abused him. She threw a piece of wood and other objects at his face, before hitting him in the shoulder and chest. The girl then ran at the deputy principal and punched him twice in the head, leaving him with blurred vision, bruising to the face and headaches. 

• When picking her child up from school, a mother at a school in the Lake Illawarra police command area became ‘‘angry and unreasonable’’. She then abused the front office staff, before banging on tables and threatening to punch the principal and slap her child’s classroom teacher.

• A male student in the Shoalhaven police command area was alleged to have been supplying drugs to other students for some time, and was observed by a teacher smoking something that ‘‘looked like a cigarette’’ while on school grounds. This was confiscated but the student would not allow the teacher to search his bag. He eventually admitted to taking drugs before school, and an unnamed substance was found in a plastic container in his bag.

• A young boy from the Shoalhaven area became agitated in class, assaulting three teachers who tried to protect other students. He stabbed one teacher with a pencil, and kicked another in the leg  and lower abdomen. The third teacher was punched on her left breast, leaving her visibly shaken and distressed by the incident.

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