Student teachers' understanding of policy behavioural directives concerning the reporting of child sexual abuse: findings from one Australian state
Abstract Background In the Australian state of Queensland, many Department of Education Policies include behavioural directives for school teachers, whereby "the teacher must墠behave in a certain manner. The introduction of an Education policy, such as the mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse by teachers, has significant and wide-ranging implications for the lives of children. However, little is known, and little literature has been found, about student-teachers' knowledge and understanding of these new behavioural directives for teachers. Purpose This study audits Bachelor of Education (Primary School) student-teachers who are about to become qualified teachers, on their knowledge, and their confidence in that knowledge, of their Department of Education behavioural directives on child sexual abuse mandatory reporting policy, which they will soon have to implement when they are employed in professional teaching positions in Primary Schools. Sample A 4th-year, final-semester, volunteer cohort of 52 Bachelor of Education (Primary School) student-teachers at a major university in Queensland, Australia provided this sample of 42 females and 10 males whose ages ranged from 21 to 45 years. Design and methods The audit's 5-page anonymous and confidential questionnaire included a series of valid statements, and one invalid statement, about the behavioural directives for teachers contained in the Queensland Department of Education Policy on the mandatory reporting of suspected child sexual abuse. Participants self-evaluated their knowledge of the Policy on a quantitative 3-point scale, and their confidence in that knowledge on a 4-point scale, and then responded to an open-ended qualitative query about their understanding of the Policy, during their tutorial classes. The quantitative responses were analysed and displayed as histograms, and the qualitative responses were clustered into three categories. Results Analysis of the data shows that while the majority of these student-teachers claim satisfactory levels of knowledge and confidence concerning their Department's behavioural directives, such results seem disappointing given a necessarily high standard of competence, and significant numbers indicating uncertainty of knowledge and/or lack of confidence regarding their roles as mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse. Conclusions It is expected that all new teachers be properly equipped and prepared in pre-service training, with appropriate knowledge and understanding of these important directives, to report the cases of suspected child abuse they will encounter in their schools. Current pre-service education of Primary school teachers at this university in Queensland, and very likely throughout the state, does not reach a standard that engenders educators' satisfaction and confidence in student-teachers' understanding of their Department's behavioural and legal requirements upon qualification. This conclusion is consistent with national and international research (See Baginsky & Macpherson, 2005; Hawkins & McCallum, 2001; Laskey, 2004) showing that teachers and student-teachers lack confidence and are inadequately prepared to fulfil their role as mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse.