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Critics see red over a stink about ink -

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Critics see red over a stink about ink

The World Today - Thursday, 4 December , 2008 12:38:00

Reporter: Annie Guest

ELEANOR HALL: There's a furore in Queensland today and it's all about red ink. The State Government
is advising teachers that red pen can be perceived as aggressive by students with mental health
problems.

But critics say the State Government is pushing loony left policy, as Annie Guest reports from
Brisbane.

ANNIE GUEST: There is an issue of substance underlying all this. But on the surface it's just red
ink causing a stink.

And from the parliament to the airwaves, it seems everyone has an opinion.

OPPOSITION MP: These kooky, loony, loopy, lefty policies.

COMMENTATOR: Focus on the issue of the red pen is one of a number of ideas.

COMMENTATOR 2: Folk wisdom, or plain silly.

COMMENTATOR 3: I would think that we have absolutely gone off the rails.

COMMENTATOR 4: It is just one more reinforcement that you are a failure.

ANNIE GUEST: It's the Queensland Government that's being marked with red pen at the moment, over
its advice for teachers dealing with mental health issues among students.

A state health department document says pupils with a mental illness can perceive red pen as
'aggressive', and suggests using a different colour.

Other advice includes tips on bean bags for troubled students and 'mind dumps' where students
express thoughts on paper that's then binned or handed to a teacher.

But Barbara Hocking from the advocacy group, Sane Australia sees little point in the red pen
advice.

BARBARA HOCKING: I think to give across-the-board advice like this can sometimes be seen as very
trite and not very helpful.

ANNIE GUEST: She's also concerned about the State Opposition's choice of words in criticising the
Government.

BARBARA HOCKING: The words 'kooky loony loopy' are not at all helpful, they really don't
demonstrate an understanding of the sensitivity of people with a mental illness.

ANNIE GUEST: What do you think about the broader context of the other advice given by the
Queensland Government to teachers.

BARBARA HOCKING: Look I think that these documents have some very good merits, I think that the
activities and suggestions are very much hit and miss.

There are some good strategies, such as having the mind dump. But then there are some other very
trite suggestions which could be problematic.

ANNIE GUEST: Sane Australia says it distracts from very good advice compiled in the Federal
Government-developed program called MindMatters, also provided to Queensland teachers.

The State Health Minister Stephen Robertson told ABC Local Radio his department's document for
teachers wasn't based on expert advice.

But he says his Government has a responsible approach to mental health in the classroom.

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: The focus on the issue of the red pen is one of a number of ideas that have been
put forward by teachers from throughout Australia, in addition to the very detailed resource kits
that have been made available under the MindMatters program.

Unfortunately there has been an over-emphasis on one particular publication to the complete absence
of any recognition that it is part of a much more detailed kit.

ANNIE GUEST: The Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Associations has criticised the kit.

And Ian Hickie from the Brain and Mind Institute also has concerns.

IAN HICKIE: I think it is a complete waste of time to focus on a red pen. I think bean bags is very
1980s.

ANNIE GUEST: With one in four young people experiencing a mental health problem, Ian Hickie says
the topic must not be trivialised.

IAN HICKIE: It's a conversation but I think the mental health experts need to be providing some of
the evidence and saying look here's the things really to focus on.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Professor Ian Hickie from the Brain and Mind Institute ending that report from
Annie Guest.