Problem students illegally suspended

Principals are using illegal suspensions to get rid of troublesome students, putting extra pressure on other schools forced to take them in.

The practice, known as a Kiwi suspension, takes place behind closed doors and is not recorded on a school's official disciplinary record.

It involves an informal meeting between a principal and a student's parents where it is suggested that they withdraw their child before they are suspended or excluded.

The Ministry of Education says it has no evidence to suggest the illegal practice is a problem, but Waikato principals say that, despite it being hard to prove, it is still being used to remove difficult students.

"I know some schools use them extensively and we use them very, very rarely," Melville High School principal Clive Hamill said.

"It's one of the challenges that the competitive environment brings."

There were 455 suspensions at Waikato schools last year, but revelations that students are being removed in secret suggests that figure does not show the full picture.

YouthLaw managing solicitor Vanushi Walters said she received calls every week from students and parents who felt they had been unfairly treated at school.

"In the worst cases we find that young people are given an ultimatum or their parents are given an ultimatum of ‘withdraw your child or they will be excluded'," she said.

A small number of students enrolled at Melville High each year after being informally removed from another school. Mr Hamill would not say which schools they came from.

"We are often enrolling children who have no choice."

He was required to accept all students unless they had been excluded from another school or posed a safety risk, which was a strain on resources. Schools continued to use illegal methods to remove students "because they can".

"There always has been, and most probably always will be, pressure put onto parents to seek other options when students become a challenge."

Fairfield College principal Richard Crawford said, while he had no evidence of Kiwi suspensions, many of his most difficult students had transferred from another Hamilton school.

"These students were also a behavioural challenge at their previous secondary schools."

Principals' Federation president Phil Harding said he had to be careful what he said about Kiwi suspensions as it was a "difficult area".

"I do not condone . . . Kiwi suspensions. There is a process and it's clearly laid out in ministry policy guidelines."

However, Waikato Principals' Association president John Coulam said it was sometimes in a student's best interest to remove them informally so it didn't appear on their record.

"It's not a practice that would be condoned by the authorities."

Hamilton Boys' High School principal Susan Hassall said Kiwi suspensions were often confused with parents choosing to remove their child.

"There is a difference between the parents making that call and the school actually saying it. I don't say: You find another school or we'll suspend him."

Fairfax Media