Editorial - Meeting a tough challenge
At first blush, there is much to commend in principal Youth Court judge Andrew Becroft's hope of recruiting school boards of trustees to act as frontline fighters against youth crime. He told a New Zealand School Trustees Association's conference at the weekend the exclusion of problem students only shifts their behaviour into the wider community. Every possible step therefore should be taken to keep all children actively involved in education.
Judge Becroft cited data showing an estimated 35 per cent of young offenders before the youth court have been expelled or suspended, or have slipped through the education system. He later told Radio New Zealand the research clearly showed that attendance at school was more effective than psychological intervention. During the past 10 years, he acknowledged, attitudes within the education system had changed and schools were resisting expulsions. This was a big improvement, because it was better to keep “troubled” children in mainstream schooling.
But there are obvious obstacles to meeting the judge's challenge to do more to help these children. The Ministry of Education has said every school could cope, if they rationalised their spending. Yes, but tipping the balance to ensure more help is given to “4000 or 5000 really tough kids” means other calls on resources would have to be ignored.
Second, parental expectations must be considered. A strong majority of respondents to a recent newspaper poll wanted tougher discipline in schools and blamed the rise in bad behaviour on the loss of discipline at home and a lack of respect among young people.
Third, the troubled students who concern Judge Becroft are intolerable trouble-makers for teachers and fellow students. But school authorities are reluctant to report incidents - including serious assaults - to the police. Post-Primary Teachers Association president Robin Duff has bridled against that policy, referring to numerous reports of teachers being punched, kicked or threatened, of property being vandalised and of verbal abuse. The need to protect teachers and students - and ensure against the law of the jungle taking over - should outweigh the rehabilitation in schools of wayward students. Like it or not, this can't be done by pandering to delinquents, regardless of their age.