Agency support cuts school suspensions

ESTHER ASHBY-COVENTRY
Last updated 05:00 05/12/2012
Donald Talbot
BARNABAS TRUST'S DONALD TALBOT: Suspension doesn't work.

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The suspension rates for disruptive school pupils in Timaru have decreased in the past seven years and this is being attributed to interagency work and police support.

In Timaru district there were 7.3 suspensions per 1000 last year, including 0.4 age 5 to 9-year-old pupils, 13.0 from age 10 to 14, and 11.3 in the 15-plus age group.

An Education Ministry spokesperson said they expected this year's figures, when collated, would be similar.

In 2005 the suspension rate was 7.7 in the district, with a peak of 9.6 in 2007.

A suspension is the formal removal of a pupil from a school until the school board of trustees decides the outcome and decides how to address the pupil's misbehaviour.

Suspension does not work, according to Barnabas Trust manager Donald Talbot who works with mostly 14- to 16-year-olds who have been expelled or can no longer attend school.

The trust offers young people practical skills as well as numeracy, literacy and correspondence learning.

"They [suspended pupils] enjoy time off school . . . they don't want to be at school anyway," Mr Talbot said.

He believes they would be better off getting a job.

Roncalli College principal Chris Comeau agrees that suspending pupils does not work but he believes anything to keep them interested in further education is a bonus.

"While some schools have very good pastoral systems and liaise with the necessary agencies, others are less proactive and leave the students to wander the streets and skate parks . . . we work very closely with the social agencies in Timaru and they are very good," Mr Comeau said.

He attributes the decrease in suspension figures to schools using it as a last resort whereas in the past it it was a common form of punishment.

Several youth agencies, organisations and police worked together to deal with stood-down, suspended and excluded students, he said.

At primary school level, it was used as a "cooling down period", South School principal Mike Horgan said, "and to provide us with time to put in place strategies to address the situation and the behaviour behind it.

"This often involves some form of restorative practice to help repair any damaged relationships."

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- The Timaru Herald

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