Growing number of students bring weapons to school

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Western Australia’s teachers’ union is calling for action to manage the increasing problem of violence in the state’s classrooms.

Perth students are bringing weapons into schools far more often than students in Victorian schools, despite having half the public school population.

In 2022, WA public schools had 114 instances of students caught taking prohibited weapons to school, compared to 78 in Victoria.

State School Teachers’ Union WA President Matt Jarman said the figures were alarming and that the comparison to what is happening in Victorian government schools “tells the story all by itself”.

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“We had a teacher stabbed two years ago. She was going about her work as a student services manager, and she almost died because someone brought a weapon in,” he said.

“We aren’t dealing with the problem if the number of weapons coming into our schools is increasing, and we’ve almost lost one employee, a very, very good one.”

School-based violence happens every day

Events of school-based violence in WA happened every 45 minutes in 2022 – or 11 times per school day – a report commissioned by the union revealed.

Mr Jarman said educators in the state’s schools were increasingly worried about their safety at work, with the union saying it received hundreds of calls asking for help each month.

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“We would comfortably get 800 calls a month (from members) and we manage all of those in the categories of violence. That number is growing,” he said.

Union says government action is needed

Mr Jarman wants the WA government to address the crisis.

Alternative Learning Settings – designed as an alternative way violent students could still access education – were trialled in 2019 in a 10-point plan to address the issue. The initiative was created by WA’s Education Minister at the time, Sue Ellery. The WA Department of Education said 223 students were delivered to the program between 2019 and 2021, with 191 reintroduced to school or an alternative TAFE-based pathway.

But Mr Jarman said this was not always the answer.

“Students who have assaulted staff, and we know of several cases, are then being returned to those schools, despite the staff feeling very nervous, despite having lost staff, despite staff threatening to transfer out, and they can transfer out because the teacher shortage will see them picked up anywhere they want,” he said.

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Harming school staff is unacceptable

WA’s Education Minister Tony Buti said violence would not be tolerated.

“It is not acceptable for any individual to behave in a way that interferes with teaching and learning, exhibit violent or aggressive behaviour or use offensive or insulting language,” he said.

“Students who intentionally attack or instigate a fight with another student or film a fight between students are automatically suspended, and we can and will support principals to exclude anyone who intentionally harms school staff.”

An updated action plan released by the Department in July, Standing Together Against Violence, outlined additional support and resources for public schools to prevent and respond to violent, aggressive or threatening behaviour.

Mr Buti said the issue of violence in schools could not be solved by schools in isolation.

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Community support is critical

“The full support of parents, carers and the wider school community is needed to address this,” he said. “They must help our children and young people understand what is unacceptable.”

For Mr Jarman and the WA teachers the union represents, he said it’s important to “stop assuming that our schools are safe places because the evidence and the data demonstrates that they’re not”.

“We need to make sure that everyone sends their kids off to school safely and staff go to work safely.”

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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]