The reason why Australia struggles to tackle its school behaviour crisis

Filling the pail

Every day, school staff across Australia experience the kind of working conditions that they should not have to tolerate. School Principals are assaulted by students and parents. Violent attacks on teachers have spiked over the last four years in New South Wales. You might think there would be a coordinated effort to address this crisis.

Unfortunately, this is structurally difficult. There are approaches to tackling poor behavior that are backed by evidence. These generally seek to deal with low-level issues before they escalate and lead to the kinds of major incidents highlighted in newspaper headlines. They emphasise positive reinforcement for good behaviour and retain the possibility of negative consequences for poor behaviour. Systematic programmes have been developed that tier the level of support available to individual students depending on their level of need.

However, these approaches are unfashionable. Two connected ideas dominate the landscape. Firstly, children are not responsible for…

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