Principal of Wellington’s Berhampore School, Mark Potter, who is also on the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) executive, says he is seeing an increasing amount of violent behaviour at his school for a variety of reasons.
His school is not alone, he adds.
“It’s not a new thing at all … I have been at Berhampore School for 19 years and I am seeing more children with violence issues,” Potter says.
“It is intensifying in certain areas – often where deprivation is occurring.”
Northland, for example, is under tremendous pressure due to increasing economic and social pressures in the region, Potter adds.
“Evidence shows as these issues increase, police see more cases of domestic violence and you can’t have that and not see it presenting itself in schools.”
When tensions rise at home due to financial pressures and soon, tolerance levels go down, and you get a litany of violence in the family and this exhibits in the child’s behaviour at school, he says.
Violent episodes in NZ schools can range from children using abusive language with teachers and other students, to physical attacks.
“Students’ non-compliance can result in kicking, biting, spitting, and throwing depending on the child – but throwing furniture in a classroom is not uncommon,” Potter says.
It is an extremely unsafe environment for students and staff, and witnessing a violent episode can be traumatic for those involved, the principal adds.
Potter says staff is instructed to focus on de-escalating the situation – removing the child or others from the child’s vicinity to ensure everyone’s safety.
It is dealt with at school, and parents, who are in a position to assist with the issue, help where they can.
With the increase of violent behaviour across the country, there has been a call from schools and associations such as NZEI Te Riu Roa for greater funding to resource schools and support services so troubled children – and their classmates – can learn and reach their true potential.
“The poor old Government is tired of everyone asking for more resources but I would much rather see half a billion dollars spent on protecting people in schools rather than the purchase of another naval vessel,” Potter says, referring to the NZ Government’s purchase of a new boat to replace the 30-year-old HMNZS Endeavour tanker, which is costing NZ taxpayers close to $500 million.
More funding would see better access to skilled people and therapies for students; and support programmes to alter the children’s behaviour, Potter adds.
“No child is irreparable, but we need resources to enable this to happen.”
Meanwhile, the recent suggestion by the Minister of Education Hekia Parata that schools should call the police to deal with “very violent” student behaviour was met with disbelief by Potter and fellow primary school principals around the country.
“It’s an ill-advised statement – the poor police don’t want to be called in to take action against children.
“I can see in secondary schools, the size of a student might warrant the police being called for help, but you cannot handcuff a five or six-year-old.”
Calling the cops would work against deescalating the situation, he says.
When a child is acting violently, it has a ripple effect throughout the school.
“A school has to work hard to address the issue, as everyone is suffering from the traumatic event,” Potter says.
“Often it is not a singular occurrence, but it is recurring – sometimes things are happening every single day.”