10.6 Children are often disadvantaged in their dealings with institutions and adults because they have little understanding of their rights and responsibilities, of the government services or complaints mechanisms available and of the roles and functions of different participants in the legal system.
10.7 In partnership with families, schools should play a central role in teaching children about their rights and responsibilities in a liberal democratic society. This should assist in the development of a politically aware population and make children more effective in dealing with legal processes as juveniles and as adults.
10.8 Young people participating in focus groups repeatedly commented on the need for schools to place more emphasis on teaching life skills. This was seen as a way of enabling children to deal with their problems effectively rather than resorting to anti-social or offending behaviour.
Civics, citizenship and participation
10.9 In May 1997 the federal Government announced that from 1999 all school students in years 4 to 10 will take compulsory lessons in civics and citizenship. The national civics program, Discovering Democracy, will include material on principles of democracy, the development of the Constitution and the responsibilities of different levels of government. This is an important initiative.
10.10 Information about the Australian political system should be complemented by material on human rights, particularly on children’s rights and responsibilities. This includes their rights and responsibilities in relation to education and under CROC. The majority of respondents to our survey stated that young people are not given enough opportunity to learn about their rights. Almost 65% said this information should be conveyed through school courses.
Some people can learn the basics from movies and books but others don’t learn anything.
10.11 As the NSW Ombudsman has stated, ‘the best way to learn is to do’. Children should be encouraged to participate appropriately in school decision making processes and in school dispute resolution such as peer mediation programs. Obviously this does not mean relieving schools of responsibility for students but simply recognising the benefits of involving children in decisions and problems that affect them. Practical experience of mediation and negotiation should be excellent preparation for dealing with formal legal processes.
10.12 Some submissions to the Inquiry oppose schools educating children about their rights because they fear young people will use the information against their parents. Similar trepidation was demonstrated by a number of schools when they banned distribution of the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre’s community education package for students, ‘Know your rights at school’.
10.13 Teaching children about their rights and responsibilities in school and in the wider community is probably more likely to bolster parents’ and teachers’ authority than undermine it. Like most adults, children will generally be more willing to follow rules they understand and can see the need for.
10.14 The Inquiry considers that guidelines on national best practice for student participation in school decision making should be developed. A handbook for teachers and students explaining the guidelines should be prepared and distributed to all schools in Australia.
Recommendation 37 Guidelines on national best practice for student participation in school decision making should be developed. The guidelines should include material that assists students to understand their rights and responsibilities in the context of school decisions affecting them. A handbook for teachers and students explaining the guidelines should be prepared and distributed to all schools in Australia.
Implementation. DEETYA should prepare the guidelines and handbook in conjunction with State and Territory education departments, peak groups from the independent schools sector, relevant community groups, school students and in consultation with the OFC. DEETYA should co-ordinate distribution of the handbook.
Teaching tolerance and combatting violence
10.15 Formal education provides an opportunity for children to develop social skills and learn about religions and cultures different from those of their own family. This aspect of schooling is highlighted in article 29(1)(d) of CROC which provides that education shall be directed to the
… preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin.
10.16 School violence, between students or involving teachers, can impede the development of these social skills, interferes with scholastic achievement and is of considerable concern to the community. A 1994 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training report confirmed the serious consequences of school violence.
School violence deprives all who fall victim to it of their right to an education. Children who were seriously victimised suffered greatly, often not only physically but also psychologically through a generalised fear of others, low self esteem and depression. The damage persisted in some cases into adult years…Violence resulted in low self esteem, truancy, illness, stress, tiredness, disruptive behaviour, lack of concentration and an inability to form relationships. It also reduced a student’s ability to achieve academically and socially.
Responsibility for ensuring that school violence does not impede children’s development lies with families, educational institutions and students themselves. To combat playground bullying, harassment and violence students must be taught respect for difference and given dispute resolution skills.
10.17 Students who are the target of violence often leave school altogether. This seriously compromises their employment prospects.
[R]esearch… indicates that violence against lesbian and gay students has consequences such as truancy and dropping out of school.
Often these children then spend the majority of their time on the streets where they are at increased risk of contact with the care and protection and/or juvenile justice systems. Playground intimidation can also have serious health consequences. New research on the effects of harassment at school confirms that bullied students are at greater risk of suicide than their peers even where they have strong family support.
[A] social environment which engenders or for that matter does very little to stop the miserable practice of bullying is one in which the mental health of many vulnerable children must be greatly at risk.
10.18 School violence can be dealt with through existing external legal processes to some extent. Serious assaults can be referred to the police and students may be able to pursue civil actions against schools that fail to protect them from harassment. Preventive programs and school-based anti-bullying policies are necessary to address the problem and may be more effective in diverting students from adverse contact with formal legal processes. They are also an effective means of instilling a sense of responsibility in students.
10.19 NCAVAC recently announced by the Prime Minister will fund 10 pilot projects aimed at reducing and preventing crime. Several of the projects will focus on youth crime prevention although none will specifically address playground violence. The information kit released for the launch of the campaign acknowledges the fact that aggressive children tend to become aggressive adolescents: ‘[a]nti-bullying programs in schools can help prevent subsequent offending.’
10.20 Many schools have introduced initiatives to reduce the incidence of harassment and assault on school premises. These include teaching students about the hurtful effects of harassment and encouraging peer mediation of disputes. In 1995 the NSW Standing Committee on Social Issues recommended that the Minister for Education ensure that sufficient resources are available to schools to enable them to function as models of co-operative, tolerant and non-violent communities. In achieving these goals it recommended that schools
provide programs which foster tolerance and acceptance
offer integrated programs which provide skills in acceptable problem solving behaviour
work to eliminate the destructive practices of bullying
support students exhibiting problem behaviours through appropriate means and environments with the well-being of all students being paramount.
The Inquiry endorses these principles. NCAVAC should conduct a specific project aimed at reducing school violence. The Campaign should evaluate the benefits for youth crime prevention of antibullying policies, anti-harassment policies, peer mediation and peer support schemes and establish benchmarks in each of these areas.
Recommendation 38 NCAVAC should conduct a specific project aimed at reducing school violence. The Campaign should evaluate the benefits for youth crime prevention of anti-bullying policies, anti-harassment policies, peer mediation and peer support schemes and establish benchmarks in each of these areas.
 Wagga Wagga Focus Group 9 May 1996; Hobart Focus Group 30 May 1996.
 Adelaide Focus Group 29 April 1996. See also A Daniel & J Cornwall A Lost Generation? Australian Youth Foundation Sydney 1993, 13.
 D Kemp, Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training Media Release 8 May 1997.
 It was supported in submissions, eg, G Vimpani Public Hearing Submission Newcastle 14 May 1996.
 Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia IP Submission 128; J Owen & G Crowter AAYPIC Public Hearing Submission Brisbane 31 July 1996; Rockhampton Focus Group 2 August 1996.
 art 42 of CROC requires States Parties to make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known to adults and children alike. See also S O’Toole Rights Education in Schools National Children’s and Youth Law Centre Sydney 1993 recs 2, 3.
 Survey Question 6.
 Survey Response 30.
 DRP Submission 80.
 This proposition has support in submissions: eg G Vimpani Public Hearing Submission Newcastle 14 May 1996; J Owen & G Crowter, AAYPIC Public Hearing Submission Brisbane 31 July 1996.
 eg Australian Family Association (WA) IP Submission 125.
 NSW Federation of School Community Organisations IP Submission 97; Youth Advocacy Centre IP Submission 120. See also R Ludbrook ‘Children’s rights in school education’ in K Funder (ed) Citizen Child: Australian Law and Children’s Rights AIFS Melbourne 1996, 93.
 This proposal was supported by Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia DRP Submission 15; Kreative Kids DRP Submission 35; Townsville Community Legal Service DRP Submission 46; NSW Ombudsman DRP Submission 80. Australian Secondary Principals’ Association DRP Submission 89 supported it in principle but was concerned about the resource ramifications.
 eg M Hogan, Catholic Education Office Public Hearing Submission Canberra 7 May 1996. See also P Mickelburough ‘Weapons rule in school’ Herald Sun 31 August 1996, 21; B Donaghy ‘Its a jungle out there’ The Sydney Morning Herald 11 November 1996, 10; B Donaghy ‘Rage in the playground’ The Sydney Morning Herald 12 November 1996, 13; J Griffin ‘Anti-lesbian/gay violence in schools’ in G Mason & S Tomsen (eds) Homophobic Violence Hawkins Press Sydney 1997.
 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training Sticks and Stones AGPS 1994, 17. In response to this Report, Cth funded forums were held in most States and Territories in 1996 to identify and promote effective practices for combatting school violence.
 This need for a collaborative approach is reflected in the Australian Education Union policy on violence in schools as adopted at its 1994 annual federal conference.
 See B Howard et al, Charles Sturt University Public Hearing Submission Wagga Wagga 8 May 1996. See also T Knight ‘Schools, delinquency and youth culture’ in A Borowski & I O’Connor (eds) Juvenile Crime, Justice and Corrections Longman Sydney 1997, 92–93.
 K Rigby Bullying in Schools: And What to do About It Australian Council for Education Research Melbourne 1996, 52.
 J Griffin ‘Anti-lesbian/gay violence in schools’ in G Mason & S Tomsen (eds) Homophobic Violence Hawkins Press Sydney 1997, 107.
 See paras 10.52, 10.62.
 K Rigby ‘Can adverse peer-relations at school drive children to suicide?’ Paper 20th International School Psychology Colloquium University of Melbourne 15–19th July 1997, 20.
 id 21.
 A gay student in NSW is suing the Dept of School Education for damages. He alleges that the Dept failed to protect him against severe anti-gay vilification including death threats and violent assault: D Passey ‘Gay pupil’s victory — Now it’s back to school’ The Sydney Morning Herald 12 April 1997, 3.
 An effective anti-bullying policy includes the school’s stand in relation to bullying, a succinct definition of bullying with illustrations and information about the rights of children with respect to bullying at school, the responsibilities of children who witness incidents of bullying, what the school will do to counter bullying on the premises and an undertaking to evaluate the policy in light of its effects: K Rigby Bullying in Schools: And What to do About It Australian Council for Education Research Melbourne 1996, 131–135.
 D Williams, Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Media Release 27 June 1997.
 The pilot projects include Negotiating Young People’s Use of Open Space and Working with Homeless Youth to Prevent Crime: D Williams, Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Media Release 27 June 1997.
 NCAVAC Unit Young People and Crime — General Fact Sheet No 6 Attorney-General’s Dept Canberra 1997.
 eg staff at Keira Technology High in NSW have implemented a policy covering sex-based harassment, racism, peer mediation and teacher training that has been effective in reducing harassment at the school: B Drury ‘Learning together about fair play for all’ The Sydney Morning Herald 30 June 1997, 10.
 NSW Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues Report 8 A Report into Youth Violence in NSW NSW Government Sydney 1995 rec 86.