How schools can make their students feel safer

by Brett Henebery09 Sep 2016


A new report highlights the need for principals to communicate the steps they’re taking to ensure the safety of their students.

The report was released by the Australian Catholic University (ACU) on Wednesday in partnership with Griffith University and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) as a response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The participants differentiated between feeling safe and being safe, and defined safety in relation to how they felt and how they behaved, as well as the things that surrounded them.

The 1,400 students surveyed said they felt safer at church, sporting institutions and camps than they did at school. Just 57% of young people said they felt safe most of the time at school, compared to 67.4% at church.

Lead researcher, Tim Moore, from the ACU’s Institute of Child Protection Studies told The Educator that students expressed a preference towards having open conversations with their teachers about their concerns, rather than the information being sent from the top down.

“Many of the students in the focus groups, which pre-empted the online survey, said they wanted to discuss solutions with their teachers and principals that would be useful in practice,” he said.

“For example, many students felt that online behaviour programs were okay but wouldn’t help them in situations where they were threatened with physical harm and sexual assault.”
 

Students ‘mostly unaware’ of child safety programs

Moore suggested that principals regularly inform students of the measures their schools are taking, because many of the students surveyed were not even aware that there were preventative programs in place to begin with.

“What should be of interest to principals is that most of the students in the focus groups were unaware of the things schools are doing to keep them safe,” he said.

“They said ‘what’s the point of schools doing all these things if we don’t know about them?’ When asked how they felt about schools’ working with children checks, many students were unfamiliar with this process.”

Moore said students were most informed by the news media and shows like A Current Affair, which broadcast segments about child abductions and paedophilia, but were not aware of schools and police ramping up their efforts to guard against these problems.

“It would be beneficial to young people if they were more aware about these things, because they would feel confident that adults had a handle on the issues that matter most to them,” he said.

Moore pointed out that schools were “very anxious” about parents’ reactions to some of these issues and suggested principals engage with P & C groups to discuss the value in educating students about their preventative programs.

“It is also important for principals to help parents realise that kids are actually quite attuned to these issues. They just need to be reassured that their schools are being proactive about addressing their concerns,” he said.

“We need to start by trussing out with children what they know and what they think is happening, rather than hitting them with too much information which might make them more anxious.

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