Fewer suspensions, exclusions

Gordon Wilson.
Gordon Wilson.
While the number of pupils being stood down, suspended or excluded from Otago schools has reached some of the lowest levels in more than a decade, concerns have been raised about the increasing number of younger pupils displaying violent behaviour in the classroom.

Ministry of Education figures released yesterday show suspensions in Otago dropped to 2.9 pupils per 1000 pupils in 2013, the lowest rate in 14 years, and the number of exclusions dropped to 1.4 pupils per 1000 over the same time frame, the second lowest in 14 years.

Stand-downs also dropped, to 20.1 pupils per 1000 pupils in Otago, which is the lowest rate since 2008.

Otago Secondary Principals' Association secretary Gordon Wilson said the statistics matched exclusion figures collected by the association which showed the number of exclusions at Dunedin schools was at a 14-year low.

Because exclusions were well down, he believed stand-downs and suspensions would also be well down in Dunedin.

Mr Wilson said exclusions were inevitable but, on a positive note, those excluded from Dunedin schools in 2013 were quickly re-engaged in education.

Although principals were delighted with the figures, he said they were also concerned about the growing number of younger pupils exhibiting ''quite severe'' behaviour, such as physical and verbal assaults on pupils and staff.

''There are fewer of them, but they are getting younger.''

Otago Primary Principals' Association chairwoman Stephanie Madden said it was encouraging to see the decline, but statistics did not always give an accurate picture of reality.

''Anecdotally, we know many schools are working with extremely challenging behavioural situations on a day-to-day basis.

''Stand-downs and exclusions are a last resort for schools. We work very hard to engage with families and support agencies so that we can bring about meaningful change without standing children down.

''However, there is still limited resourcing for children with severe behavioural difficulties.

''Supporting these children can place significant strain on school personnel and finances.''

Otago's figures reflect the national trend which shows pupils being stood down, suspended and excluded nationwide has reached a 14-year low.

Expulsion figures were also very low, with just 137 pupils prohibited from returning to their school.

Education Minister Hekia Parata was delighted far fewer pupils were being removed from school because it meant they were staying in class and continuing to learn.

''This all shows how hard teachers, principals, parents and communities are working to encourage positive behaviour in our schools.''

Ms Parata said Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) initiatives were operating in more than 500 schools across the country, and the number was expected to increase to about 800 by 2017.

''There is also the Bullying Prevention Guide for schools released this year, and behaviour contracts which will be introduced for schools and students.''

Ms Parata said in the past, too many pupils saw little point in being at school and many became bored and disruptive.

''Now, they have more choice through trades academies and vocational pathways.

''These improvements are changing how many students see education and their attitude is improving as a result.''

Ms Parata said there was still more work to do to reduce the rate of stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions - particularly among Maori, Pasifika and male pupils.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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