YOUTH AFFAIRS: by Geoffrey PartingtonNews Weekly
Schoolies week excesses: public debate needed
, December 10, 2011
In Queensland, the police gave their state’s own 2011 schoolies a glowing report card after being rated the best behaved class of kids in the past decade.
In Surfers Paradise overnight, police arrested only 22 schoolies on public nuisance and drinking charges during the final evening of celebrations. Only four residents had made a hotline complaint during the week, compared with up to 15 calls a night three years ago. Fewer than 140 schoolies were arrested in the last eight days — about the same number as last year and a massive improvement on 2009.
Residents and police were grateful for small mercies. In 2009 in one night police arrested 30 schoolies, and during eight days 217 schoolies on 244 charges.
The weather may have helped. Gold Coast Schoolies Advisory Board chairman Mark Reaburn noted: “It rained at midnight. That was perfect because it drove the people away.”
However, Mr Reaburn thought that more than damp weather was having an effect. He suggested, “There seems to be a different vibe with the kids.” No doubt Mr Reaburn hopes for similar weather as interstate schoolies begin to arrive, especially because the Victoria and NSW leavers are on average a few months older than the Queenslanders.
In addition, more “Toolies” — older revellers — turn up for the out-of-state students, perhaps on the theory that the farther away from home, the smaller the inhibitions of the schoolies.
Schoolies week first began on the Gold Coast in the 1970s in the week after final exams. It is now considered by many teenagers in Australia as a rite of passage from school discipline, light as that seems often to be.
Apologists for our gilded youth suggest that the stress of the last year of school is greater than in the past. That may be true, but only because students have virtually no external examinations before their final school year.
University places are more abundantly available than ever before; and more students drop out of courses during their first year than ever before. Stress does not seem to play much part there: lack of interest in continued study seems the main reason.
Schoolies have similar patterns throughout Australia, except in Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Popular overseas destinations for schoolies include Fiji, Bali and Vanuatu.
Official schoolies events are drug-free and alcohol-free events, and include concerts, dances and parties. Attendees are required to be registered and to present ID on entry. However, the best efforts of the police and authorities have limited success.
The media are often accused of exaggerating schoolies’ lawlessness, loutish behaviour and unruliness, binge drinking and sexual promiscuity, but the picture is troubling without any need to exaggerate. A 2010 study found that almost two-thirds of schoolies consume more than 10 drinks per night.
Controls over alcohol, cannabis, ecstasy and other drugs are difficult to enforce; and when fights and sexual assaults take place, the damage is often done before the police have a chance to intervene. Even less can be done about falls from balconies and suicides, or even damage to hotel rooms and vandalism to other property.
Sexual assaults during schoolies week have increased, and a 2010 study found that one-third of males expected to have sex with multiple partners.
Schoolies are not short of good advice. Official publications warn about such things as non-consensual sex, drinking and driving, mixing drugs and alcohol, and not leaving someone if they have passed out.
Most of the suggestions are sensible, but the school leavers have been given the same warnings and messages many times before. If they have not accepted them before schoolies week, they are not likely to do so then. And the assumption that many school-leavers will indulge in drinking, drugs and sex is likely to weaken reluctance to get into such situations.
Deeper problems concern the failure of extensive education to produce more moral sense and prudence. The desire of so many school leavers to drink too much, to experiment with dangerous substances and to engage in casual sex denotes a social malaise.
This is by no means confined to our schools and they are hardly the main instigators. Indeed, they lack the power and authority to affect the conduct of their students. That being conceded, many schools should take more seriously their moral obligation to act in loco parentis, and by that we mean in the place of diligent and responsible parents.
In parliamentary debates and pronouncements about education, the most fundamental issues are generally neglected. A basic political principle is surely that laws should be enforced. The schoolies’ excesses are but one example of the inability of the police to enforce the drink and drugs laws.
Wider debate is needed across the political and religious spectrum as to what should be done. Should we scrap laws that currently cannot be enforced, invest far more resources to try to enforce them, or struggle along haplessly as at present?
Dr Geoffrey Partington has academic degrees in history, sociology and education, and has lectured on education at Flinders University and overseas.