Home | School Management | Police called to NSW schools 20,000 times in the last year
Disruptive and poorly behaved students have prompted changes in how and when principals can suspend students. Picture: NCA Newswire/Jeremy Piper

Police called to NSW schools 20,000 times in the last year

Police were called to schools across NSW almost 20,000 times in the year to November 2023, including for serious sexual incidents and violence involving pistols and swords.

The rising tide of school violence in the state has been laid bare in a dossier released by Police Minister Yasmin Catley which showed an average of 53 police call-outs a day.

The figures include three reports of terrorism.

Teachers and youth mental health advocates have pointed the finger at increasing anxiety and social deterioration among students.

University of NSW professor of special education Therese Cumming said Covid-19 lockdowns are probably to blame.

"During Covid, a lot of young people lost the ability to socialise and have become so used to communicating online some have a really difficult time in person – they find it traumatic," the professor said.

The figures revealed 2,821 reports of assault, 1190 incidents of malicious damage and 856 call-outs for break and enter.

They also show a large number of weapon-related incidents, 66 involving a knife, sword, scissors or screwdriver, seven involving a pistol or a shotgun, and 31 physical incidents involving fists or feet.

There were 685 sexual touching incidents reported on school grounds – a rate of more than 13 incidents per week and a further 411 sexual assault incidents, at a rate of almost eight per week.

Police were also called to schools to respond to 479 reports of stealing, 282 drug detection incidents, 67 incidents involving fire and 29 stolen vehicles.

Separate figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics shows there has been a steady increase in criminal incidents occurring on school grounds during the latest two annual reporting periods.

The figures include a 34 per cent increase in assaults on school grounds between 2021 and 2022 and 116 per cent increase in sexual offences over the same period.

Incidents of assault and sexual offences are also higher than pre-pandemic levels.

What's being done

NSW Secondary Principals’ Council president Craig Petersen said teacher shortages and an increased reliance on casuals have added to the disruption felt by students.

"When students have the same teacher they know what the rules and consequences are, but that becomes more complex when more classes are being taught by casuals," he said.

The figures come as the NSW Government prepares to roll out a new student behaviour policy across the public school system in Term 1 that includes setting no limit on how many times a school can suspend a student.

A recent unflattering disruption report also said student behaviour in Australian classrooms were 'among the worst in the world'.

Previously, rigid and inconsistent suspension rules harboured a 'grey' area for principals, who Education Minister Prue Car last November said are often left feeling helpless when trying to discipline persistently disruptive students.

The old rules said principals can only suspend students if they: (1) cause actual harm to any person; or (2) pose an unacceptable risk to the health and safety, learning, and/or well being of another.

The updated rules now include 13 reasons a student can be suspended, including for misuse of technology (mobile phone use), continued disobedience, disruptive behaviour, verbal abuse, vaping and supplying vapes.

Other reasons include malicious damage or theft of property, possession of illegal substances or weapons, engaging in sexual assault or other sexualised behaviour, engaging in physically violent or criminal behaviour, or discriminating against someone based on their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability.

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