Why difficult students should not be suspended from school

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Over the last ten years, school suspension rates in some Australian states have sky rocketed - but is it the best disciplinary option? The Feed speaks to both sides of the argument.

In the past decade, school suspension rates in states like New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria have increased by more than 30 per cent. That’s got some teaching experts and parents calling for the punishment to stop.

But teachers say suspensions are a circuit breaker that allows both students and teachers to take a break from disruptive or violent behaviour.

So who’s got it right? We speak to both sides of the debate.

‘I could not protect my students’

Robyn, not her real name, has been a primary school teacher for nearly twenty years in regional Victoria. She says last year three new students turned the small school she was teaching at into a battlefield.

She’s in favour of suspensions.

She describes one student threatening to kill her with a branch because his computer crashed. Another threw a large piece of terracotta at her head. Then there was the time when she cowered with her students in a classroom while a boy pelted them with rocks.

“You’d be scared,” says Robyn.

“My students would be scared as well and that’s what hurt me the most, that I could not protect these students.”

Robyn says removing a disruptive or violent student from the school temporarily can be an important circuit breaker which allows the situation to de-escalate.

Most schools will hold a resolution meeting following a suspension, where the school staff and parents of the suspended students can come up with a behaviour support plan. ​​It is a document that addresses inappropriate behaviour of the student, and outlines strategies to improve.

Robyn believes that most importantly, suspensions benefit the rest of the school. She says teachers can spend up to 80 per cent of their time doing dealing with behaviour, differentiated lessons and the paperwork that follows.

“That's not inclusive system, that's an exclusive education for those two or three kids,” she says.

She says schools need to think about the majority of students.

“On the days when these boys were suspended...we would have some peace, we would actually have some peace, we could learn.”

“What suspension says is that we are incapable of dealing with your needs”

Teaching consultant, Louka Parry, says suspension doesn’t help students.

“Ultimately that they are quite damaging to students in the long term, because what that actually says to a student is that we are incapable of dealing with your needs.”

Students with behavioural and learning difficulties are more likely to be suspended.

Janette Theoctistou’s ten-year-old son, Gregory, has Autism Spectrum Disorder. He has spent half of this school year at home because of suspension.

“Greg is not naughty,” says Janette.

“Not one single thing that he’s done was deliberate because he wanted to do the wrong thing. It’s because he can’t control and he hasn’t got the ability to self regulate.”

Evidence shows suspension isn’t effective in changing a student’s behaviour and can affect their wellbeing.

A growing body of research shows suspension increases the likelihood of failing school and dropping out as well as contact with the criminal justice system.

“Suspension have sort of isolated him.” says Amanda about her thirteen-year old son Jai, who has ADHD, a hearing impairment and an IQ of 56.

“And the stigma behind it from the other kids in the school, so they start getting an attitude towards him as being the naughty kid or the psycho,” she says.

Both Amanda and Janette say that the behaviour support plans which are put in place after a suspension are often not implemented in the classroom which resulting in more suspensions.

“When the behaviour plan isn’t implemented it’s inevitable that the behaviour is going to happen,” says Janette.

“So I think when it happens again and again it is disheartening.”  

What do you think - is there an appropriate situation for school suspensions? Have you experienced it yourself? Email us: thefeed@sbs.com.au