School suspension changes must be backed with resources

Ian Bushnell 10 September 2018 6

Violence can be a trigger for suspension but new proposals add other layers of response for schools and principals.

Most parents acknowledge that simply suspending a student from school may not actually change inappropriate behaviour or fix a problem but it is still seen as a necessary sanction in some circumstances.

New steps proposed by the Education Directorate as part of the review of its Suspension, Transfer or Exclusion of Students policy will focus on intervention and support, with suspension as a last report.

The ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Association says it is a shift towards prevention and behavioural change, as well as more in-school suspension that may be used informally.

The hope is that students can have the opportunity to modify their behaviour and actually learn from that experience rather than having a two-day absence from school.

P&C Association policy officer Veronica Elliott says many schools are already taking this ‘best practice’ approach but there is a lack of consistency across the ACT.

“We’re pleased that teachers and principals have additional measures to intervene with student behaviour early rather than resorting to suspension because we know that while suspension works in most instances, occasionally suspension is really ineffective in changing student behaviour and that these students go on to continually disengage in schools,” she said.

The new policy refers to schools drawing on support services and using restorative justice practices, where victim and perpetrator can be brought together, as part of a school’s toolbox.

This immediately raises the issue of adequate resourcing to ensure an intervention can be successful and at present, the Directorate is struggling to employ enough school counsellors let alone ensure all schools have the capacity to call in whatever skills they may need to deal with a situation.

And skill is required in conducting restorative justice, a contentious process that has its risks, particularly for the victim.

The P&C admits resources are a concern, but where schools have had the capacity to intervene and provide positive behavioural supports early, it has prevented further trouble down the track.

“So investing these resources up front have been really important. This really relies on really good relationships between schools and families and honest and direct feedback between all parties,” Ms Elliott says

The ACT Principals Association, rightly, is alarmed at what it sees as limits being imposed on principals’ power to suspend students, and also has concerns about the victims of poor and violent behaviour.

Association head Michael Battenally told the ABC that suspensions were still effective for managing behaviour, and were mostly one-offs that sent a clear message.

He also said suspension was not just about the offender, but the victims.

“If you had a child at school and that child was in a situation where they were assaulted … you would expect and would hope their needs were being met through the outcome as much as the student who was the offender,” Mr Battenally said.

While principals may still retain the power to suspend students, they may reasonably feel that instead of taking the immediate action they feel is warranted, their hands will be tied.

The Directorate says administrative procedures will also be simplified, which many might see as ironic considering that schools and their principals will have much more to consider when confronting disruptive, recalcitrant and violent students, many of whom are quite adept at gaming the situation.

It has always been preferable to nip issues in the bud but if the ACT is to go down this path the Directorate needs to provide sufficient resources to schools, and principals will still need to feel that they can act decisively, particularly when violence is involved.

Otherwise, all the good intentions in the world, even if backed by the latest research, can come to naught and may even backfire.

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6 Responses to School suspension changes must be backed with resources
Dot Hepburn Dot Hepburn 11:45 am 13 Sep 18

Suspensions are not a great deterrant for the students who have complex behavioural needs, but they are a welcome respite for the students & teachers who are the recipients of the behaviours.

Donna Venables Donna Venables 11:34 am 11 Sep 18

Suspensions don’t work anyway. They get rewarded for their behaviour by suspending them. They don’t want to be at school anyway, so why reward them by sending them home??

Mel Smith Mel Smith 11:04 am 11 Sep 18

Lisa Hivers maybe we should offer to model our restorative model... 🙂

Grimm Grimm 10:50 am 11 Sep 18

How about parents just go back to hitting their kids and discipline them properly for behaving like clowns?

When I was a kid, suspension worked because it meant your parents found out you were misbehaving, and you got flogged. There were actual consequences for your actions.

A large part of the issue is the complete failure of parents to actually parent.

Antonia Harmer Antonia Harmer 7:51 am 11 Sep 18

More support for teachers, parents and students is needed

Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 7:25 am 11 Sep 18

Is there any evidence at all that suspensions do anything more for the victims than give them a 1 or 2 day reprieve from the person that's bullying them? Which you could also achieve by in school suspensions.

And similarly, is there any evidence that suspensions work as a deterrent for the offenders?

The principal in this article might think that it is usually a one off measure and that may be the case at their school right now. But that's not what I hear from parents or from my child.

Some data on this might be useful.

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