Vicki Baylis advises staff to read chapter 16 of the Royal Commission’s report. Yes this report contains much good advice for teachers of Indigenous children to digest and absorb into their teaching practise.
Although it is very ironic that she states,
“The report emphasises the importance of our priority to support every Territory child’s successful journey to adulthood, and education is key to that.“
Why is it ironic? Of all people Vicki Baylis would be well aware of what took place at Kalkarindji school under Mr. Parker’s management, and that one particular child was not shown this ‘important priority’ by Mr. Parker. In fact the department of Education has refused to reveal the Special Investigators report into these matters, and some believe that this department has quietly settled the matter with the child’s family to avoid further adverse media reports and scrutiny.
We would point out the following excerpts from the Commissions report which have a direct relevance to what had been taking place at Kalkarindji School.
“In a counter-productive approach, children and young people were excluded from the classroom arbitrarily without assistance to help them to improve their behaviours and stay in the classroom learning.”
This was a common practise at Kalkarindji school by young inexperienced teachers who could not cope with students who had difficulty settling and managing their behaviour.
“Within the classroom, the discretion to exclude or suspend students for disciplinary reasons was overused, and at times staff members did not appreciate the needs of their students.”
The most glaring example of this practise at Kalkarindji school was one young male teacher having 132 suspensions for his year ¾ class in the 2015 school year.
The Commission also reported that,
“While data on the health status of students in the Northern Territory is not aggregated, it is uncontroversial that students in youth detention in the Northern Territory often present with diagnosed or undiagnosed cognitive impairments, as well as complex psychological, health and social issues. These can include Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), Attention De cit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (ADHD or ADD), Oppositional De ance Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, neglect, trauma, substance or alcohol misuse or abuse, and speech, vision and/or hearing impairments. In addition, some students in youth detention in the Northern Territory speak a first language or languages other than English.”
The child Mr. Parker threatened with his cattle prod is believed to have suffered from one of these conditions. In an urban school this child would have received appropriate support that would not include his mother having to sit with him in class.
The Commission report stated that,
“Research also suggests that mental health issues and cognitive impairments are commonly interrelated with educational disabilities, such as ‘receptive’ and ‘expressive’ language difficulties. If unrecognised and untreated, these interrelated characteristics can result in children and young people displaying inappropriate behaviours in the classroom and achieving poor rates of literacy.”
A very pertinent point that the teacher of this child should have been aware of and Mr. Parker should have organised and provided specialised assistance for.
The Commission found that,
“At times, students at the Tivendale school were excluded from the classroom by disproportionate responses that prioritised the collective over individual education rights and did not seek to help individual students improve their behaviour so they could remain in the classroom learning.”
This is a particularly pertinent point that teachers in remote schools struggle with on a daily basis and this boys teacher has prioritised the collective over the individual needs of this student, but instead of dealing with the matter appropriately he took unethical actions and excluded this boy from the classroom, effectively further marginalising this boy from an effective education and the Commissions following finding is a perfect example of this.
“At Tivendale School, at times some students were punished disproportionately by imposing a suspension or exclusion from school without adequate regard to alternative means of behaviour management and planning to ensure their continued engagement with education.”
Locking a young student out of the classroom to wander the school on his own is not an effective behaviour management strategy, neither is instructing him to go home on his own because he is having difficulty managing his behaviour. When he objected and started throwing rocks at the school Mr. Parker’s decision to use his cattle prod to persuade the boy to leave the school grounds would offend any reasonable person.
What is more offensive is that this Principal was removed from this school and community only after numerous media reports and was later promoted to another Principal position and the young teacher was promoted as a Teaching Principal in another remote community.