Are teachers still hitting students? Because it’s still legal in some schools – Hack
At private schools in Queensland it is still legal for a teacher to “use reasonable force” against a student to discipline or control them.
Whether or not it still happens is another story.
But one man has come forward urging young people who might be experiencing corporal punishment at school nowadays to speak up.
And he wants the practice totally banned.
“Schools can be the only safe place for some kids”
Christopher McGilvery, 44, says he was traumatised after a relief teacher physically assaulted him in 1986, when he was in year 7 at a state school in Brisbane.
“I was hit with a 5mm wooden doweling about a metre long across my back three times and Jason [a classmate] was hit across the back twice – it was in response to [smiling at] another student misbehaving,” he said.
It was at a time corporal punishment at all Queensland schools – public and private – was legal.
Christopher says that incident exacerbated bouts of depression and led to distrust in teachers.
“I believe that particular incident enhanced even further what was happening in my life at the time.”
That’s not an uncommon response to getting physically disciplined at school, according to Dr Katrina Lines, the Executive Director of Services at Act For Kids, a charity advocating for children’s safety.
“Schools can be the only safe place in some kids’ lives. Home lives are dysfunctional and could be violent, and relationships with teachers can be so therapeutic.
“So if you introduce corporal punishment into a child’s life where they’re already living with violence, chaos and dysfunction, you’re reinforcing everything they know,” Dr Lines told Hack.
She says the experience can often stay with victims.
“If children have already experienced trauma and heightened fear, then the corporal punishment experience in environments they’ve felt safe in will just stay with them and re-traumatise them.”
Christopher says that was the case for him.
Calls for victims to come forward
In a recent attempt to rectify the past, Christopher went to police about that incident in 1986 and found out what the relief teacher had allegedly done was legal at that time.
He approached the Queensland Government too but says he was told the teacher couldn’t be found.
Queensland banned corporal punishment at public or state schools in 1995, but Christopher was outraged to discover it remains legal at private or non-government schools to this day.
“These kids should come forward and make it known to the Queensland Education Department and open the door to getting it looked into further.”
He wants to see Queensland’s law change, to bring it into line with other Australian jurisdictions.
And he wants an apology from the Queensland Government.
While Dr Katrina Lines from Act for Kids isn’t aware of any school corporal punishment cases, she wants the law changed too.
“It’s surprising really because there’s a lot of research that shows corporal punishment isn’t a great behavioural management strategy for kids, it role models violence as a solution to behavioral issues.”
Is it even still happening?
Some lawyers have been campaigning to change corporal punishment laws for years, even accusing the Queensland Government of breaching international treaties on the rights of children.
Professor Paula Gerber from the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University says just because she doesn’t know of any cases of corporal punishment being used in schools, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
“I also don’t know if there are systems in place where that sort of information would become publicly accessible. Unless a child or their parents go to the media or make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, that information would not be readily available,” she said.
Professor Gerber argues assaulting a child is a criminal offence.
“At the moment the criminal law says it is an offence to assault someone… unless it is reasonable use of force by a teacher against a student.”
She says the Queensland Government needs to listen to people’s concerns.
“If they think people don’t care, they don’t have the incentive to change the law. But if people start contacting local MPs and expressing concern about the fact corporal punishment is still permitted in schools, maybe something will be done about it,” Professor Gerber said.
In a statement, a spokesperson from the Queensland Department of Education says Queensland non-state schools have the autonomy to establish their own disciplinary policies and procedures, including the use of corporal punishment.
“However, corporal punishment has been banned in Catholic schools and the vast majority of independent non-state schools do not permit the use of corporal punishment.
“Even if a school permits the use of corporal punishment, staff members will not be protected by the Criminal Code Act 1899 if the force used is unreasonable in the circumstances.”
It says former students of state schools who have complaints should seek independent Legal advice.
Christian Schools Australia and the Queensland Catholic Education Commission have previously told Hack they’re not aware of corporal punishment being used in their schools and any changes to totally ban the practice wouldn’t be opposed.
South Australia is in the process of drafting laws to ban corporal punishment.