Report on school suspensions

UnitingCare's Social Justice Unit released a report/policy paper Addressing high rates of school suspension. It says ...

The right to education is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This includes taking measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and to reduce school drop-out rates.

However, a key issue that has emerged in our practice is that many vulnerable children and young people are missing out on educational opportunities due to the impact of school suspension.

...

We are particularly concerned about the cumulative effects of school suspension on the education and wellbeing of our most vulnerable children and young people. This includes children in care, Aboriginal children and children with disabilities. These students often experience a repeated pattern of suspensions, which intensifies academic difficulties and disengagement from learning.

The report says data from the NSW Department of Education confirms that "long suspensions" rose 36% from 2006 to 2011.

The NSW Department of Education and Communities does not publish data relating to the number of children with disabilities who are suspended from school. However, anecdotally, reports from our practitioners and from parents suggest that there are very high rates of suspension of students with disabilities, particularly students with autism.

Suspension is pointless. There seems to be little positive outcome for students who are suspended. The report notes that "suspension places strain on students’ relationships with their parents or carers".

The report suggests changes.

What is required?

  • changes to the NSW school suspension policy with a focus on reducing the incidence and duration of suspension
  • proactive support to schools with high rates of suspension to implement alternative approaches to managing students’ challenging behaviour
  • encouraging schools to consider the use of in-school suspension with increased support such as counselling
  • strengthening collection, monitoring and public reporting on school suspension and expulsion data
  • ...

  • The Federal and NSW Government review and strengthen processes for evaluation, review and public reporting of programs directed at improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged students, in line with the recommendations of the Productivity Commission and the Audit Office of NSW
  • ...

  • All teacher training courses include increased content on positive behaviour management strategies. The way that this is delivered should include mandatory stand-alone subjects.
  • The NSW Department of Education and Communities continue to implement the Positive Behaviour for Learning program across all schools in NSW. The Department should ensure that the Schoolwide Positive Behaviour model is fully implemented using a multitiered approach that includes school-wide, targeted and intensive intervention levels. The way this is implemented should also ensure that teachers receive ongoing coaching and support to implement positive behaviour management strategies in a consistent way.
  • ...

  • Increase NSW Government investment in school counsellors to improve the counsellor/student ratio to 1:500
  • Increase the numbers of Home School Liaison Officers and Aboriginal Student Liaison Officers in NSW so that they are able to take a more proactive approach and address behavioural issues
    that lead to suspension
  • Increase the numbers of Out-of-home Care Coordinators and teachers in NSW to take their capacity beyond crisis response and into teacher support and training

Unfortunately, more school counsellors is an inadequate response for children with (clinically) severe challenging behaviour(s) and autism; these children need services and support from professionals expert in applied behaviour analysis (for example, click here, choose "Australia" in the International box and click search).

The suspension of students with autism is not a new issue. It has been reported repeatedly, and the reports are ignored ... consistently.