Editorial: Fights in the school yard is a community problem

By Shepparton News

School violence a community problem to solve

Reports of fighting and racist taunts among our secondary students — both in and out of school — are disturbing.

Fights in the school yard are nothing new, of course and racial or ethnic slurs among young people are hardly unheard of.

But reports of gang-like behaviour and carrying knives suggests a deeper malaise — one that can’t easily be explained away by frustrations after extended home-schooling during the lockdown.

While it is hardly surprising that some people are immediately blaming the Greater Shepparton Secondary College’s merged-school model, that conclusion is neither obvious nor helpful.

These issues have been growing for a long time and lie behind the appalling educational outcomes we have seen in recent years.

We should remember that the Mooroopna Secondary College had serious conflict issues over an extended period, which led to declines in enrolment from about 800 to less than 400. The Shepparton High School also had its share of incidents.

What we are faced with are the consequences of 25 years of dramatic demographic change where Shepparton and Mooroopna — like many cities across regional Victoria and up the eastern seaboard — became the dumping ground for social housing.

That has occurred for the simple reason that housing is cheaper in the country. Successive government agencies responsible for social housing drove welfare recipients to the bush.

What they failed to send with them were the resources, infrastructure and expertise to deal with the attendant issues of drug abuse, crime, mental and physical health and child welfare.

The simple truth is that the behaviour of our students is a product of their upbringing: we are no longer who we thought we were, or like to think we are. We are a mix of cultures now with an underbelly of ingrained disadvantage.

One of the great lessons of the establishment of the highly-successful Committee for Greater Shepparton seven years ago is that we do much better when we own the problem as a community — when we realise it is pointless assigning blame and whingeing — and get on with doing something about it.

The social problems lying behind these episodes of violence in our schools are often inter-generational and deeply embedded — but there are many communities around the world who have found solutions to such problems and turned them into opportunities.

To suddenly expect a new school to solve problems we have long been ignoring or pretending that don’t exist is absurd and unproductive. These are issues for the entire community to confront — and work together to resolve.

We agree with Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed that we need our city leaders, ethnic, indigenous and community leaders, together with the police and those with youth welfare expertise to work with our school leadership to deal collectively with these issues.

We must ensure a safe and stable education and living environment where every local child can maximise his or her potential.