Assaults in schools are increasing – and both teachers and students are at risk

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Madison, 22, didn’t want to use her real name, but as a young woman about to enter the professional education sector as a secondary school teacher in 2024, she says she’s worried about the rising numbers of assaults in schools – up from 129 in 2018 to 187 in 2022, according to recent data.

She recently completed a placement in an outer-suburban public high school in Melbourne and says that the violence she saw in the schoolyard made her nervous about the career she has dreamed of since childhood.

“I didn’t feel threatened, personally,” she says. “But I saw students physically intimidate other students and heard teachers talk about fights that happen outside of school grounds, on weekends or nights, and how those tensions come back into the classroom the next day.”

But although she never felt as if one of the secondary students was an immediate threat to her own personal safety, Madison describes that tension as a threat to all teachers and other innocent students.

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“If something happened in front of you, instinct is to do what you can to help,” she says. “Well, I hope it would be my instinct, anyway. But that risk of what you’re putting yourself in the middle of makes me worry, and it’s not what I thought I’d be worrying about. Lesson planning is stressful enough. I don’t want to think about trying to break up a knife fight.”

Fatal stabbing at Melbourne school

In May, Pasawm Lyhym was with schoolmates at a bus station in suburban Sunshine, just under 15 kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD,  when a fight involving what police describe as groups from different schools broke out. Pasawm, 16, died at the scene after being stabbed.

Pasawm was in year 11 Melton South’s Staughton College.

Detective Superintendent Janet Stevenson revealed teenagers who arrived at the station that day “looked as if they were there for a purpose”, with at least three of them carrying knives. Two other boys were also injured in the incident.

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According to figures from the Crime Statistics Agency – and Madison’s anecdotal experiences at her recent school placement not far from the school the deceased boy was from – the level of violence that led to Pasawm’s death is on the rise in Victorian schools.

Violent assaults on the rise in many Australian states

Elsewhere across Australia, there are similar stories.

In NSW, two girls were filmed bashing a classmate from Elderslie High at a bus stop in November 2022. In August 2022,  police say students filmed brawling outside LaSalle Catholic College in Bankstown carried knuckle dusters and knives.

In February this year, a student at one of Adelaide’s largest public schools, Mark Oliphant College, was filmed punching a female student in the face and knocking her to the concrete on school grounds.

The number of children aged 10 to 16 accused of committing serious assaults in education locations (including public and private schools) in Victoria has jumped by 45 per cent.

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The statistics represent assaults that happened both during and outside school times.

Well-known youth worker, Les Twentyman, is the founder of youth support service, the Les Twentyman Foundation, and has been warning Australians about knife-related violence amongst teenagers for years.

Despite the warnings, he says it’s sad to see “a growing number of young people telling our youth workers they “arm up” to protect themselves from violence on the streets”, Mr Twentyman told The Bursar.

“Then, because they’re the ones carrying the knives, they may cause it themselves.”

15-year-old Solomone Taufeulungaki was fatally stabbed on his way home from school during a brawl in Melbourne’s Deer Park, in 2020. Between January 2022 and January 2023, 78 incidents involving weapons were reported in Victorian state schools.

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Although teacher union representatives say the majority of student violence is aimed at other students, a spate of injuries inflicted on teachers and staff show that education sector professionals are also at risk.

For Madison, and many other young student teachers she knows, assaults in schools is an issue that is talked about, but not dwelt on.

“Almost all of the kids I’ve met at schools are awesome. They’re great kids and the teachers are doing a great job,” she says. “But it does make you think about our own reactions to things and how, maybe, you need to approach some situations differently … just in case.”

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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]