The fight clubs schools don’t want to talk about

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Some Victorian school students are sharing disturbing ‘fight club’ videos to social media, with one page boasting more than 7000 followers.

In the past six months, more than 100 videos showing students celebrating violent brawls and attacks on other unwilling students have been posted on Instagram, showing students kicked, stomped on and thrown to the ground.

The graphic videos show schoolyard fights involving students from a range of schools across the state, including St Albans Secondary College, Tarneit Senior College, and Point Cook Senior College. But with the ongoing teacher shortage impacting the load and emotional toll on already overworked educators, managing student behaviour in the classroom is challenging enough.

Social media companies should step up

In a media report revealing the shocking videos, psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg said: “Schools have a legal obligation to provide students with a safe environment in which they learn, this also includes adequate supervision and monitoring.”

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“Kids are now growing up with a diet of violence as entertainment,” Dr Carr-Greg said, calling for social media companies to take responsibility and remove “these types of videos”.

Instead, Dr Carr-Greg said, the social media companies that enable these videos to be watched and shared are playing a key role in “normalising, sanitising and glamorising violence towards young people” – with the fight club activities “clearly against the policy that government schools have”.

In one video, filmed on school grounds, a victim who is pinned to the ground is punched at least six times by another boy, as classmates rush to help him. Another video shows a girl trapped in a toilet cubicle before another girl repeatedly slaps and punches her.

Footage of a large brawl at St Albans train station shows uniformed students from nearby schools, with a student filmed dragging a girl across the ground by her hair as the victim screams for help.

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Parents asked to contact police

In a statement to media, a Department of Education spokesperson said: “We work actively with community organisations and Victoria Police to address and prevent any violence or conflict outside school grounds. All schools have strong policies in place to address any incidents of violence or bullying and where isolated incidents occur, schools take decisive action, including disciplinary action where appropriate.”

A Victoria Police spokesman said their advice to those shown in the videos was clear:  “Consider the damage your actions will cause, as the repercussions from a fight don’t always start and end in the schoolyard”.

“When vision of a fight involving students comes to our attention, we work closely with schools to identify those involved and do not hesitate to lay criminal charges,” the spokesperson said. “Many of these fights are planned in advance so we implore parents and guardians to contact police if they hear about upcoming fights involving children.”

“Schools need outreach youth workers”

High-profile youth worker Les Twentyman OAM heads the Les Twentyman Foundation and has been working with at-risk teenagers and families for more than three decades.

The school fight club videos are real, he says, and the worrying trend is part of a broader issue.

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“KIds are becoming more violent to each other,” he says. “And it’s become a bit of a competition – who can put up the most violent video? The filming stuff is just off the radar right now.”

Keeping kids in classrooms

One of the foundation’s mottos, he told EducationDaily, is “keep kids in classrooms, and out of courtrooms”.

To do so, Mr Twentyman believes schools should have in-house outreach workers that can work with the children in the school but then also work with the children and their families in their home and on the streets.

He recently returned from a research trip to schools in Alice Springs and says he was impressed by one well-run school that had 300 students, 100 teachers and five youth workers actively involved in the students’ lives.

“I couldn’t believe it that a school in a remote area had it so right while we’re not doing it here in the city,” he says.

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Mr Twentyman highlights an incident that happened in Melbourne in April to show how close things can be to going very wrong – and have lifelong consequences for everyone involved.

“Some boys from a catholic school in North Melbourne were on the train. They saw a kid with expensive runners – and they saw that as an opportunity to make some quick money. They surrounded him, stabbed him with a machete and nearly killed him,” Mr Twentyman told EducationDaily. “It was all filmed on social media. That’s the sort of stuff that’s really going on.”

The injured child survived, but says Mr Twentyman “If you use machetes, there’s a fair chance you will kill someone”.

While he knows it won’t be an overnight solution, he believes youth outreach workers in school can make a positive difference. Young people at-risk need support around them both in and out of the classroom, he says – and both schools and families are part of that.

“With outreach workers, they can work with the family and the kid,” Mr Twentyman says. “The family has a resource – and so does the school.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live