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Challenging student behaviours affecting teacher health and wellbeing

Challenging student behaviours are affecting the health, productivity and welfare of Australian teachers as well as the students themselves, a leading special education academic says.

Dr David Armstrong, author and Chair of Research in Special Education (RISE) within Flinders University’s Educational Futures Research Institute, said educators, behaviour specialists and parents should focus on identifying the cause of challenging behaviours that may have an enormous impact on the student.

“Many students are struggling to psychologically cope with school or with mental health conditions, and express their distress through damaging behaviours that challenge or concern parents and teachers,” Dr Armstrong said.

“Students are being disciplined for their behaviours, often to the extent of being excluded from school or choosing to withdraw to avoid such discipline, yet the root causes of those behaviours may be ignored.

“In many cases the children are given behaviour labels that don’t explain why they are not coping with school and why they express this through withdrawal or aggressive or defiant behaviours.”

Dr Armstrong said children from disadvantaged backgrounds, or with disabilities such as autism, are most at risk of behaviours that lead to exclusion, poor school attendance or self-withdrawal from school.

“These factors may be the cause of the challenging behaviours, yet they are often missed as the focus is on the behaviours,” he said. “These causes should be identified and treated, and if necessary the students should be referred to specialists, at the same time as immediate strategies are implemented to help the student cope more effectively.”

Dr Armstrong – who will discuss challenging behaviour at the RISE “Investing in Inclusion” Conference at Flinders University’s Tonsley Campus on June 16 – said the effect of students’ challenging behaviours on their teachers was becoming increasingly apparent.

“Teachers’ organisations in Australia, the UK and US are expressing concerns about the impacts of students’ behaviours on educators’ health and wellbeing, so that it is now considered a costly occupational problem,” he said.

“Educating students with major behavioural needs is demanding, and teachers need all the support they can get.

“The phrase ‘team around the child’ has been used in schools – I prefer ‘team around the teacher’ to stress the need to support educators’ welfare in meeting the needs of all students, now and in the future.

“Teachers and other professionals working with students should be non-judgmental – show at all times that they care about them – while having the skills to prevent or de-escalate negative situations.

“Calmer school environments must be the goal, so all students and teachers can work confidently, safely and productively.”

Connecting schools with good-quality research that demonstrates what will work in classroom practice is a key issue, Dr Armstrong said. He pointed to behavioural science and psychology as fields offering research to help in classroom situations. He said cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has long been used in health settings to help individuals adopt more positive behaviours, and clinicians use Trans Theoretical Model (TTM) to reduce damaging behaviours such as smoking and excessive alcohol use.

FROM OUR PARTNERS: Where has outside school hours care come from and where is it heading?

With the evolving changes to family dynamics, more parents are needing out of school hours’ care, more schools are providing it on-site and the regulatory and staffing challenges continue to get more complex. Adam Pease, CEO of Camp Australia, asks where it has evolved from and what is the future of before and after care in primary schools across Australia. 


If you were living in the 70s then you were listening to Skyhooks on the radio and you knew it was also a long way to the shop to buy a Chiko Roll (even if AC/DC had the words a little different). Societal norms at that time saw children making their own way to school and they were free to roam anywhere in the neighbourhood, so long as they were home for dinner. Out of school hours care programs didn’t really exist as there wasn’t a need. Fast forward a generation or two to today and our streets are a very different place. Society now deems them a much more dangerous place for young children to be and children finding their own way home from school is no longer considered the norm. With the rate of families in which both parents work continuing to rise (currently 3 in 5), the demand for out of school hours’ care is stronger than ever, in many cases, is a non-negotiable requirement for parents when choosing schools.

Previously unregulated and flexible in their approach, out of school hours care programs have come a long way in the past 30 years. What was once an easy program to run in-house, thanks to the lack of licensing, regulation, legislation, and reporting requirements, is now a veritable labyrinth of laws, compliance requirements, compulsory staffing ratio and records management expectations.

The introduction of the National Quality Framework (NQF) in 2012, by the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority, brought a renewed level of safety and quality to what had become a significant industry and provided benchmarks and targets that programs must abide by in order to gain and retain accreditation.

The government further endorsed the NQF by announcing a range of child care rebate schemes but only to parents utilising licenced out of school care services. These rebate schemes are now not only a fundamental benefit for families and parents but are also regularly featured, and hotly debated, in federal elections.

The staffing landscape has also changed considerably since the early inception of out of school hours’ care. Initially, run and staffed by mums and dads, school committees, volunteers and members of parent-teacher associations, before and after school care programs are now required by law to be staffed with childcare trained and qualified professionals with current first aid certificates and anaphylaxis training. Ensuring the right mix of team members to adequately cover compliance requirements can prove troublesome for small providers.

Whilst the past three decades have seen significant advancements and changes to the out of school hours’ care industry, the journey is not over yet. As society continues to evolve so too do the needs of working families. This evolution in turn shapes and drives before and after care services.


The future holds many opportunities for out of school care, yet it also poses many challenges. With the NQF now a defining feature of the industry, schools and after care providers must be on constant alert for changes, updates and revisions in the governing guidelines to ensure their programs are compliant with current legislation. Non-compliance in some circumstances can lead to restriction or even closure of thScreen Shot 2017-05-29 at 11.57.37 ame program, so keeping abreast of NQF requirements is a must for all out of school care services.

As the NQF shifts from its foundational phase into a growth and refinement phase, we will no doubt see less of the major, easy to identify, changes to guidelines and significantly more minor changes, tweaks and modifications to tighten safety and increase the quality of licenced services. It will be imperative that all after care providers, whether schools or specialist providers, remain vigilant and attentive to the ever changing NQF landscape.

Staffing programs with fully-qualified team members could also prove to be more of a challenge in the coming years. With staff to child ratios now firmly embedded in services, the focus is shifting more to the qualifications of individual team members as well as the blend of qualifications amongst the team in order to meet the ever-changing compliance requirements. Smaller providers and in-house operators that don’t have a pool of staff to call upon may struggle to achieve compliance across their team.

Technological and digital advancements are changing the way we interact and do business on a daily basis and after care services are no exception to that. In what is becoming an instant download world, parents and families expect to be able to interact with service providers wherever and whenever they choose to. Gone are the days of 9-5 customer service via the telephone, instead, more and more families are wanting to register, book, manage, cancel and pay for services at their own convenience. The explosion in the number of websites, apps and social media channels dedicated to out of school hours’ care is a testament to the fact that parents are demanding more online interaction. With no end in sight to the information age we are experiencing, it’s safe to assume that these basic technological demands will soon evolve into more customised, individual solutions for parents.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to challenges and opportunities for out of school care. Who knows what the future could hold? As work life becomes more fluid for parents we may see a demand for evening, night time or weekend care. Or, as schedules get busier and family time more precious we may see a demand for inclusion of structured language lessons, music lessons or sporting lessons during before and after care. It’s anybody’s guess what is to come. One thing we know for certain though is that times are changing and only those who change with it will succeed.

If you would like any further information with regard to this article or other OSH
C related matters we would be happy to help. Please contact Camp Australia on 1300 792 668

Adam Pease is an experienced education, technology, administration and communications professional. A passionate industry advocate, Adam has worked in the education and early childhood care sector for 15 years and is focused on bringing out the best in kids. Adam, like all members of the Camp Australia team, takes great pride in leading the industry in best practice, working with all levels of government and education to ensure children get the care they need and deserve. 

Decades of learning to be considerate of others

Camberwell High School is located in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria. The school’s motto, Disco Consulere Aliis, still guides it today, according to Principal Jillian Laughlin. We spoke with Jillian about her approach to helping students become resilient and independent learners. 


Camberwell High School opened in 1941 with the latin motto, ‘disco consulere aliis’ – which means ‘learning to be considerate of others’. Established during World War II, CHS became the new institution for Melbourne High School students as the selective-entry school was used as a military base. So the school’s motto was immediately put into effect.

It’s now 75 years later and the motto still holds true for our current cohort. We challenge every student to know themselves as a learner and to achieve their personal best.

We foster a culture of respect for every member of our school community in our values, behaviours and through differentiated learning options in our curriculum and co-curricular programs.


Our school community is unique. We are very much a school serving our local community, with most of our families living close to the school, walking, cycling or catching public transport for a short distance. Our students are closely connected to the school and to one another.

As a secondary school, we are fortunate to have strong parent involvement, particularly through our School Council, Parents and Friends and Friends of Music associations. New families and staff often comment on the warmth of welcome and the breadth of opportunities that the school offers. Our students have access to a rich learning program and a diverse co-curricular program including; competitive sport, musical productions, camps, tours, sister school exchange and a large instrumental music program with 11 ensembles.


Just as the world has changed dramatically in the last two decades, so too have schools. One of these big changes is the rapid development of technology, including the constant use of personal phones and computers. Students are continually processing huge amounts of information and communicating with others. The role of the teacher has changed, reducing the demands on content production and increasing the emphasis on developing students’ skills, particularly as independent learners. Our physical environment for learning has changed as desktop computers have come and gone and interactive whiteboards, cameras, notebook computers and phones have become important learning tools. However, there are important aspects of the school which have changed very little, such as the dedication of teachers to their learners.


Building the capacity of leaders to implement the school’s educational vision is core work for any principal. At a large secondary school like Camberwell High, it is essential that a distributed leadership model is developed so that all members of the school community understand and enact our vision for learning. The leadership team consists of three principal team members and 10 leading teachers and we work closely together as a team and as smaller working groups within the team. Each member of the leadership team leads other staff across the school in professional learning, staff discussion groups and curriculum development teams. We are always looking for opportunities to build the capacity of teachers to create leaders for our own school and for the system. We do this through professional learning within the school, including our aspiring leaders program, which I lead and currently has 15 staff members at varying stages of their careers.


The best part of working in a secondary school is seeing the growth and development of children into adults. One of the reasons teachers are sometimes reluctant to take on leadership roles is because it removes them from the classroom and their immediate contact with students. This was true for me, so it is important to me that as a principal, I create opportunities to connect with students frequently and in meaningful ways. I see myself as an educational leader rst and foremost. I have a mentor class once each week for 75 minutes. I started with this group when they were Year 10 students and now they are in Year 12. In my weekly meetings I act as their learning advocate and ensure that they are progressing with their learning. I ensure that they know what is happening in the school and encourage their participation in school programs.

I meet with Year 12 student leaders every Tuesday morning to support them in delivering their action plan for the year. Together we run a student forum every term to ensure we are hearing from students directly. Every day I spend time with students, but there is never enough time to do this as much as I would like.


One of the biggest challenges in the senior years of secondary school is to do it all and to do it effectively. Schools have increasing demands placed upon them to develop knowledge and skills and deliver programs to prepare students to be good citizens and community members. At the same time, schools need to prepare students for external exams and a variety of tertiary settings. Finding ways to meet all of the demands and ensure the happiness and wellbeing of young people at a time of high stress and anxiety is a major issue. We know that our young people experience anxiety not only about doing well at school but also about an uncertain future in regard to employment and big world problems such as global warming. Building individuals who are resilient, positive and able to solve complex problems is essential and challenging work for schools.


There are so many wonderful moments for me, including travelling with students to our sister schools and seeing the world through their eyes. The wonder and excitement of being with students experiencing the terracotta warriors or climbing the Eiffel Tower for the rst time or telling you about their first night of homestay in China or France. One moment that I will always cherish is meeting up with an ex-student at Melbourne University who I had taught when he was at my previous school. He was an English as an Additional Language student and he had achieved extraordinarily well at school, despite his challenges with language and migrating to a new country in difficult circumstances. He had completed a medical degree and was going
on to postgraduate studies. Seeing students overcome obstacles, persist and achieve success is always a thrill.


School leaders are diverse in their personal approaches and school contexts are unique. But the consistent requirement for leaders is the capacity to communicate an educational vision for the school and to develop personal commitment to it from all stakeholders. Building ownership across the community of the school’s direction and ensuring it is alive in all aspects of the school requires constant attention. It means that wherever possible, community members need to be engaged in providing input and are encouraged to give feedback. In this way, the vision can be owned by everyone. One of the biggest challenges is the diversity of views and ideas within the school community which pour into the school, so the principal needs to consider these carefully and not be afraid to make improvements while maintaining a clear direction.


The pace of change in technology is exciting and challenging for schools. We have a 1:1 notebook program and this has enabled us to provide students with access to online tools and resources at school and at home. So the ways in which we communicate and share the curriculum has changed. We use a continuous assessment model so students’ results are published once tasks are completed. Parents can track their child’s attendance and academic progress easily. As a result, communication between home and school has been greatly enhanced. Teachers also use collaboration tools which enable students to work online together. Students are able to monitor their own growth and development using technology. The learning process and students’ understanding of how learning occurs can be greatly enhanced through the use of technology. We have introduced Digital Technology as a subject in Years 7 and 8 so students can develop their skills, particularly in regard to programming and exciting technology such as robotics. As the creators and designers of the future, this is a vital area of skill development.


In our school, data is consistently used with the intention of improving student learning. Classroom teachers use multiple sources of data, including NAPLAN, VELS and pre-assessments to establish entry points for each learning sequence each term. VCE teachers analyse their students’ results to determine improvements to the learning program for their new class. Ongoing formative assessment is utilised by teachers as tools for determining the effectiveness of the learning program and to develop the next learning activities which ensure students’ needs are being addressed. Importantly cohort data, including NAPLAN, is analysed by teams across the school to determine the impact of learning programs. Student learning growth is the key criteria of any data analysis.

Victorian Government announces musical grants

The Victorian Government has announced the second round of its $400,000 Musical Instruments Grants program.

Education Minister James Merlino and Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing MP today visited Morwell Central Primary School last week to open the round.

Under the program, 200 eligible schools will be invited to apply for grants of up to $5,000 to buy musical instruments.

Morwell Central Primary School students have access to 29 new percussion instruments, four drums and two woodwind instruments thanks to $4800 in funding in the first round of the program. Other schools across the state used the grants to buy instruments including pianos, guitars, ukuleles and xylophones.

The grants are part of the Labor Government’s $2 million Music in Schools initiative – which also aims to provide professional music education training for hundreds of Victorian teachers.

Research shows that exposure to music enhances student engagement and wellbeing, improves academic performance and builds personal and social development, the State Government noted.

“Research tells us that exposure to music and musical education results in better results and better attendance,” Minister for Education James Merlino said.

“That’s why we’re helping hundreds of Victorian schools like Morwell Central Primary to develop and run quality music programs for their students.”

“Last year 43 schools purchased more than 500 musical instruments including drums, guitars, tambourines, xylophones, cowbells and even an emu caller. I can’t wait to see what schools receive in round two.”

“Morwell Central’s students are making the most of their instruments in a brand new school, and making music is helping them to develop new skills, make friends and have more fun while they learn,” Eastern Victoria MP Harriet Shing said.

The Music in Schools program comprises $1.6 million for professional training for hundreds of Victorian teachers, $400,000 in grants over two stages for instrument purchases and $200,000 to help trainee teachers at university complete musical education training for primary schools.

To date 596 teachers have completed professional training and 627 trainee teachers have completed training.

Students’ financial literacy ranked: PISA

Australia is equal fifth in an international assessment of young people’s financial literacy, according to a report released by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

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School safety

Malcolm Turnbull labels Labor's school funding approach as "fake"

ABC News his school would lose $1.4 million over the next two years from the amount Labor offered when in office in 2013. “We have programs in place that support Aboriginal students, students from non-English speaking backgrounds and students with disabilities,” Mr McKay said. “We are a very complex school — we’re one of the most disadvantaged in South Australia. So, what we’ve been able to do with the Gonski money is put in a whole range of programs that support all of those students,” he said. The principal reportedly based his numbers on the current funding agreements signed in 2013 when Labor was in office. The Government schools will receive an extra $18 billion over the next decade, when compared to its previous budget.]]>