Assaults at schools leave teachers ready to quit

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Secondary school teachers in South Australia claim “weekly” attacks by students will result in some leaving the profession.

Several teachers in the state say they have experienced physical and verbal assaults against them – and that no action has been taken by the SA Department for Education.

The teachers spoke to SA media anonymously, citing fear of losing their jobs, and said they were either too traumatised to return to work following the assaults, or planned to quit teaching because of the increasing violence in the state’s schools.

One teacher at an unidentified country school in SA described the situation as “nightmarish” and said they had been assaulted multiple times, including being punched. They said that a lack of action from the Education Department, with no consequences for the perpetrators, forced teachers to remain silent after violent incidents.

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“For every written report, there’s probably at least three or four (assaults) that aren’t reported,” the teacher said. “There’s no support for the teachers.”

Another male teacher, who described violence against teachers as a “weekly occurrence”, said they had been kicked and punched several times this year, and claimed the Education Department was “not doing anything” about the assaults.

Consequences for perpetrators are critical

Australian Education Union SA branch president Andrew Gohl said that reports of the increased violence made him feel “deeply and gravely concerned”.

“There needs to be very clear consequences for members of the public, and indeed students, who are violent,” Mr Gohl said. “There’s no place for that in our society, much less our schools, which are a place of learning. We really need to examine this as an issue. It’s one of the reasons why people are leaving the workforce and we … can’t afford to lose any educators from the system at the moment.”

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Mr Gohl said the Education Department should work more closely with SA Police to protect teachers and condemn violence in the state’s schools. Mr Gohl recently met with SA Police Minister Joe Szakacs to discuss the increased violence after an assault on a deputy principal on school grounds.

“Support needs to be given to education workers,” Mr Gohl said. “It needs to be taken seriously.”

A spokesperson from SA Police said police worked with the Education Department to “ensure the safety of staff and students”.

Another teacher, who said she was too traumatised to return to work after a student physically assaulted her in 2022, was told she would need to work at another school if she did not want to teach the student responsible for the alleged assault.

Female teachers, said another teacher from an Adelaide school, were being regularly sexually harassed by male students.

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“People are ending up in tears after teaching,” she said. “It makes it quite an aggressive environment to be teaching in.”

Staff and students should feel safe

SA Education Minister Blair Boyer highlighted the state government’s investment of $12m to support schools, including funding behavioural coaches and security personnel in schools, and said he had “prioritised staff safety” in ongoing negotiations for a new enterprise bargaining agreement with teachers, and that he would “ensure schools get the resources they need to get on top of incidents”.

Education Department chief executive Martin Westwell said violence against teachers was “unacceptable”.

“The safety of our children, students and workforce is our priority,” he said.

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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]