No Hugs At School
YOUNG children seeking a hug or cuddle will be discouraged
by teachers under new guidelines outlining appropriate conduct
between teachers and students.
And teachers will now be encouraged to use verbal rather than
physical directions, particularly during dance and sport activities.
The State Government says the measures have been developed to
protect teachers but the union fears they are too rigid in parts
and do not balance good intentions of teachers or the context of
The guidelines, a joint initiative of the State Government, SA
Association of Independent Schools and Catholic Education SA,
will be sent to all schools, preschools and out of school hours
care services this week.
"Never before have we had such a focus in South Australia on
the need to protect and provide safe environments for children,"
Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said yesterday.
Under the guidelines, teachers should not initiate student tickling
games or massages, drive a student unaccompanied or attend students' homes
or social gatherings for personal reasons.
It also outlines ways for staff to respond to inappropriate behaviour
between students and teachers, managing boundaries when working one-on-one
with a student, and appropriate physical contact and restraint.
Australian Education Union SA president Andrew Gohl said the guidelines had
put teachers "on notice".
"What we have to be careful of is not making these sorts of guidelines so
prescriptive that it limits our ability to provide comfort to children," he said.
"The protection of children is paramount but it has to be balanced against
the protection of our members with vindictive claims."
Dr Lomax-Smith said the move was "not about preventing teachers from touching
children but making sure that they understand and respect boundaries".
"Caring, protective and encouraging forms of touch are healthy and are
important to all humans, particularly in times of distress," she said.
Mr Gohl said the guidelines provided several pertinent questions teachers
should ask themselves to weigh up different incidents.
But he questioned the violation of teachers attending students' homes or
personal social gatherings.
"If you live in a country community there are those social situations you
can't preclude," Mr Gohl said.
Education and Children's Services Department chief executive Steven
Marshall said it was important teachers were provided with advice and support on the issue.
"We have put our heads together to get the best guidelines possible
but we need to see them in practice – but certainly if they need
modification, we are open to that," he said.
Association of Independent Schools of SA executive director Garry Le
Duff said the association would encourage its member schools to use the
guidelines when developing child protection policies. "Teachers and school
leaders have been concerned about this for some time," he said.
Catholic Education director Allan Dooley said the guidelines followed a
series of child protection strategies initiated by the Adelaide Archdiocese in recent years.
Last year, six teachers were deregistered by the Teachers Registration
Board for improper conduct or sexual offences relating to children.