A recent poll of 17,000 Australian high school students found 33% believe fighting can be a way to have fun, while almost one-third like to watch fights at school.
Reading statistics like this, it’s no wonder schoolyard violence is such a common issue. However, a prominent Victorian charity has been making some encouraging progress in helping students enjoy a more peaceful experience at school.
The Pat Cronin Foundation was set up after 19-year-old Pat Cronin was killed by a Coward Punch attack during a night out in 2016, and now connects with 70,000 young people a year in schools and sports clubs.
Through the Pat Cronin Foundation’s ‘Violence is Never OK’ and ‘Rethinking Anger’ programs – which cover the consequences of violence, managing anger, risk awareness and avoidance, responding to social violence and ending the coward punch – Victorian schools have seen a marked decrease in the number of students who believe there is a place for violence in the schoolyard.
Following these presentations, the percentage of students who think that fighting can be a way to have fun has been shown to decrease from 33% to 23%, while those who like to watch fights at school has reduced from 33% to 26.1%.
The Foundation has also sampled male students, asking them the specific question of why people might be motivated to engage in violence. Before the presentations, 44% of males agreed that most people respect those who use physical force, but after the presentation, just 28.4% held that view.
An optimistic approach to overcoming violence
Due to demand, the Foundation has delivered presentations to schools in every state and territory in Australia this year, with Western Australia (October) the most recent interstate excursion.
“Since inception in 2016, the Foundation has maintained a deliberately optimistic voice in its approach to violence-prevention education,” Foundation Director Matt Cronin told The Educator.
“In line with this, we offer a comprehensive range of Prep-Year 12 resources to empower students to ‘Be Wise’ – which is our overarching premise.”
Cronin said all of the Foundations presentations, eLearning resources and school activity kits are aligned to the Australian and Victorian curriculums for Respectful Relationships, directly supporting student wellbeing and personal development.
“Specifically, the programs have been designed to help students learn the life skill of conflict resolution, understand anger and aggression, respect, risk awareness and emotional control.”
“The research data has been collected from our presentations over the past 12 months, and is the first step in our efforts to monitor the impacts of our [‘Violence is Never OK’ and ‘Rethinking Anger’] programs.”
‘The need is urgent’
Western Australia School Nurses Association President Kate Buffham said the level of social violence, both physical and emotional, is significantly affecting young peoples’ learning and health outcomes.
“I think the Pat Cronin Foundation has developed an amazing comprehensive model to get through to youth and young people. Because there is no equivalent to them in Western Australia, it would be great for them to establish themselves here as they have in Victoria,” Buffham said.
“In fact, the need is urgent in my opinion.”
Matt (Pat’s father) said the “ultimate aim” of the Foundation is to end the Coward Punch.
“When we started out, we didn’t realise we’d be tapping into such a raw nerve,” he said. “Seven and a half years ago my wife Robyn and I had to make the agonising decision to turn off life support for Pat, who had suffered an inoperable brain bleed after being Coward Punched while helping a mate.”
Matt said it’s a decision that no parent should ever have to make.
“We’re committed to ensuring others don’t have to endure the same anguish”.