Revealed: Where our students are being suspended the most

KELSEY FLETCHER
Last updated 05:00 30/12/2012

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Rotorua principal Violet Pelham has no qualms about her school topping the list for the most suspensions in the past school year, saying her hardline response to bad behaviour makes the school safer than many others.

The Education Ministry keeps a record of all students suspended for doing drugs, committing arson, assaulting students or staff and stealing.

Those records show Western Heights High School in Rotorua suspended more students than any other state school this year, followed by Fraser High School in Hamilton and Kamo High School in Whangarei.

At least 68 students were suspended at Western Heights for alcohol or smoking, drugs, continual disobedience and assaulting staff and students.

The school topped the list for suspending students for drug-related behaviour, with 38 temporarily removed from its grounds.

Pelham doesn't see it as a black mark against the school - in fact, it's the opposite, claiming her tough approach means Western Heights is safer than many other schools that fail to act so strongly.

"In our opinion the issue of drug offending is no more serious at our school than any other," she said. "We respond to any reports given by staff, students or the wider community.

"Suspension has proved one of our most successful tools to curb unwanted and serious misbehaviours harmful to self and others."

Pelham says 10 suspensions resulted in exclusions or expulsions and this has proven to be a successful deterrent.

"Through the process of suspension, meetings with parents, whanau and community almost always succeed in reintegration and restorative outcomes," she said. "If this creates high suspension statistics, so be it."

Fraser High School suspended at least 31 students for arson, continual disobedience, drugs, and assaulting students and staff. The Hamilton school had 14 students suspended for continual disobedience.

Fraser High School principal Virginia Crawford did not respond to phone calls.

Kamo High School in Whangarei suspended the most students for assaulting their peers, removing 13. The school suspended at least 25 students this year.

Principal Gavin Greenefield said there was a spike of suspensions in the middle of this year, before he became principal.

"It's not something I believe will continue but there was a number of suspensions in response to some extreme behaviour by what was a difficult group of students and we weren't prepared to accept some of the behaviour that was exhibited by this small group," he said.

"Our board and myself were absolute on making a safe environment, and the result was there were a number of suspensions.

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"Most of the students were returned, some were not."

Greenefield said the numbers are a spike and will be fewer next year.

"I'm never pleased when there are suspensions, I feel it's most unfortunate," he said.

"It's a severe interruption to a young person's education, our aim is to have as few as possible and potentially zero."

Rotorua Intermediate suspended the largest number of 12-year-olds, with 16 being temporarily removed. Hamilton's Peachgrove Intermediate was the only other school to make the double digits, suspending 10 12-year-olds.

In total, there were 2962 students suspended across the country this year, a 21 per cent decrease from 3750 in 2011.

- Sunday Star Times

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