Whether or not schools or Department of Education and Training want to admit it violent incidents in schools are becoming more and more frequent. Just weeks into the new school year there have been several critical incidents involving weapons at Perth metropolitan schools. Most recently, three weeks into the term, a 12-year-old student at Safety Bay SHS allegedly threatened staff with a knife and had to be subdued by police with a taser gun before being arrested.
The same day a student at Armadale SHS allegedly assaulted a teacher with a chair; a student with a history of violence in the school.
Only the week before a teacher had a knife held to his throat by an intruder at the nearby Comet Bay College, and the union has been dealing with another alleged knife incident at a Western suburbs primary school.
And it is not just State schools that are experiencing violence problems; Aquinas College reportedly had an incident between students students involving a knife, which occurred last year but was only reported recently.
Violence is a problem that is becoming endemic - not just in low socio-economic areas. But just how widespread incidents in schools are is not clear because of the reluctance of schools and teachers concerned about reprimand or a poor reflection of the schools they work in - to have these incidents publicly acknowledged.
"The culture in schools generally is not to report violent incidents ....Peter Allen, the Comet Bay teacher and union rep at the centre of the recent incident at the school. "We must report these things."
Union OSH organiser Joy Barrett agrees. "Reporting and recording violent incidents is paramount," says Barrett. "If there is no record, no action will take place."
At Comet Bay, a new school in Perth's southern coastal suburbs that only opened last. year, the knife incident was the most recent in an alarming string of assaults involving weapons, according to Allen, who is also the school's OSH rep. He is quick to point out that none of the offenders with weapons were Comet Bay students - all involved outsiders.
Allen decided to speak out about his frightening experience because he is concerned about the violence and wants to see measures taken to protect both teachers and students. He and several colleagues, who didn't want to be named, said they were aware of similar incidents at aware of similar incidents at neighbouring schools which had been 'kept in-house' - a practice Allen sees as potentially dangerous.
In Allen’s case, he found himself verbally threatened and with a steak knife held to his throat outside his classroom after ordering three young trespassers - who were looking for a student at the school - off the school grounds.
"These are criminal offences beyond the jurisdiction of schools and people need to go to the police. People need to be charged," says Allen, who wants action taken before someone is seriously hurt or - killed.
According to Barrett, there are several measures schools should have in place as part of their risk management strategy, including a mandatory lock-down procedure for critical incidents, a communication system for teachers on yard duty, and in schools with a history of trespassing problems, a fenced school site.
At Comet Bay the school is fenced, though a gate at the rear of the school leading to the oval and a main road bus stop is left open for ease of access. Allen would like to see it locked, with teachers given keys, to discourage intruders. He would also like the handful of walkie-talkies that teachers have access to for yard duty supplemented so that each teacher has a means of communication at all times.
"People see them as an inconvenience at the moment because they have to retrieve them from the office and put them back but if each teacher had a walkie-talkie on a charger on their desk, they would be more inclined to use them," says Allen, who has also put forward the option of using pagers.
"Hospitals use pagers that are centrally monitored, if an incident occurs the pagers have a duress alarm which alerts management and security."
Barrett says she agrees with Allen and she would encourage all schools to address the best risk strategy plan for their individual school - guided by the department's new document Keeping Our Workplaces Safe, created to assist schools in managing and preventing violent incidents.
Meanwhile, the reporting and recording of incidents and the review of OSH procedures is critical in ensuring both duty of care to students and teacher safety at work.