From the President's Desk

June 2024

We hope this newsletter finds you well and thriving. As always, we're committed to keeping you informed about matters that impact families and students' well-being and education. I’d like to highlight two pressing issues: the rise of vaping among teenagers and the concerning phenomenon of school refusal, as highlighted in a recent Four Corners program.

Australian Youth are Vaping at alarming levels:

One of the growing concerns in schools nationwide is the increased usage of vapes among children and teenagers under the age of 18. As a leading voice of families for over 2.3 million students in public education, ACSSO is concerned that by the rapid uptake and normalisation of vaping by our youth.

This concerning trend not only poses health risks but also affects academic performance and overall well-being.

Vapes’ marketing, products, packaging, flavours and new concealments are very appealing to the youth. Recent vapes can now look like stationary and vapes are readily available to people under the age of 18. The current restrictions are not working and this is leading to a public health crisis for our youth.

In September, we undertook a survey about vaping. In that survey, 97 per cent of respondents were concerned by the potential health risks from vaping. 57 per cent of parents and carers indicated very high levels of concern about the health risks from vaping for the children and teens in their care. Parents and carers indicated health concerns from vaping including respiratory and heart disease, addiction and mental health risks.

Respondents indicated overwhelming support for research, education and a public health campaign. Parents and carers also wanted further restrictions on the supply of vapes to our youth.

ACSSO recently partnered with the Australian Medical Association, Australian Education Union, Australian Parents Council and Catholic School Parents Australia in a shared media statement to call for further research, a public education and health campaign and for senators to support the current bill before parliament to further restrict the supply of vapes. Some notable quotes from our colleagues:

“Vaping is quite possibly one of the greatest public health challenges that we're facing at the moment. It has enormous negative consequences for children, and we're seeing children around the country become dependent on vapes at extraordinary levels. After years and years of fruitful work in reducing rates of smoking, we're now seeing nicotine use through vapes go through the roof. We have a window of opportunity to help protect the next generation of Australians, and we urge all parliamentarians to join us and put aside considerations of funding from tobacco lobbies and business interests who seek to profit from vaping, and we're urging you to put the wellbeing of the next generation of Australian children first.” Steve Robson, AMA.

“The issue of vaping is causing increased disruption in our schools with respect to teaching and learning, not only from its illicit use by students and on the school grounds or in bathroom facilities, but to the level of disengagement that students are having who are vaping in their classroom every day. For teachers who are experiencing escalating workloads and are dealing with very complex needs of students, the issue of vaping needs to be resolved by governments. Our teachers need to be backed by governments and by education departments because this is a societal issue that has filtered into the classroom. Our teachers need a systemic response.” Correna Haythorpe, Australian Education Union (AEU).

“Well, here we are again. I thought cigarette smoking was bad enough, but here we are again with vaping impacting on our community, and more so on our children in our schools. Vaping is causing harm to our kids. We don't know the outcomes. We don't know what's going to present us in the future with vaping. Our children are being used as guinea pigs — guinea pigs to test out what vaping might do to them in the future. It must stop.” Jennifer Branch-Allen, Australian Parents Council (APC)

“It is our collective responsibility to ensure that schools remain safe havens where students can learn and flourish without the threat of harmful substances. Our support of these legislative measures is rooted in our commitment to fostering safe and supportive learning environments. Schools should be places where parents can feel confident that their children are secure and their wellbeing is prioritised. By implementing these reforms, we're taking a vital step towards ensuring that and safeguarding the health and wellbeing of our students.” Sarah Rose, Catholic School Parents Australia (CPSA).

As a community of families, we are deeply committed to the health and safety of students. We recognize the importance of addressing this issue proactively. We encourage parents and carers to have open and honest conversations with their children about the dangers of vaping and to seek support if needed.

School Refusal is increasingly prevalent, with significant potential impacts on students

Recently, the Australian investigative journalism program, Four Corners, shed light on the complex issue of school refusal (link here). This phenomenon, where students experience extreme distress or anxiety about attending school, is a growing concern that requires our collective attention and understanding.

School refusal can stem from various factors, including anxiety disorders, bullying, academic pressure, or family issues. It is essential for us, as a community, and schools and parents and carers to recognize the signs of school refusal and provide the necessary support and resources to help students overcome these challenges.

School refusal can negatively impact a young persons’ learning and development. It can affect friendships as well as social standing due to missed opportunities to connect with friends and other students.

Veronica Elliott (ACT P&C Council) and Dianne Giblin (ACSSO) gave testimony to the recent Education and Employment References Committee Inquiry into school refusal. [

Practice among schools varies greatly, and ACSSO is working with schools and the community to identify good practice. We are particularly concerned that state governments do not track the reasons for student’s absences, particularly significant absences, to understand the size of the problem and to initiate processes to support individual students to return to the classroom.

While further work is needed to identify and scale up good practices, we know several things work:

  • Smaller class sizes
  • Early intervention, and ensuring a safe school environment
  • Supports from parents, carers and school staff collaborating together to support the individual student to address the student’s particular concerns.

We encourage parents and carers to communicate openly with their school's support staff if their child is experiencing difficulties attending school regularly. Together, we can explore solutions and create a supportive environment where every student feels valued and empowered to succeed.

Moving Forward Together:

As we navigate these complex issues together, we want to assure you that our priority remains the well-being and success of every student. By fostering open communication with families, supporting appropriate resourcing for public schools, and identifying effective supports and policies, ACSSO and state school organisations can work together to advocate for change to address these challenges effectively and create a safer and more inclusive learning environment for all.

Thank you for your continued partnership and support.

POSTAL

PO BOX 8221,
Werrington County,
NSW, Australia, 2747

PHONE

0497 042 026 (Monday, Tuesday & Thursday)
0418 470 604 (Monday through to Friday)


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