Education in crisis as stand-down rate rises
By LANE NICHOLS - The Dominion Post | Friday, 15 June 2007

Nearly 30,000 pupils were suspended, stood down or kicked out of school in the past year - mostly for disobedience, drugs, violence and abusing teachers.

The alarming figures - revealed yesterday in one of two major education reports - are coupled with a dramatic rise in truancy, with about 30,000 pupils cutting class each week.

The Government has announced new attendance guidelines and truancy targets for schools in a bid to combat the education sector crisis but advises that more is needed to stop pupils slipping through the cracks.

The 2006 Student Engagement Report shows schools dished out 27,475 suspensions and stand-downs last year - nearly 500 more than in 2005.

Both disciplinary measures mean a pupil is sent home for misbehaviour, though suspensions trigger a more formal process involving school boards that can lead to permanent removal.

Serious misconduct resulted in 1706 exclusions and expulsions - in which pupils are permanently barred from a school - a slight decrease from 2005.

Only children younger than the legal school-leaving age of 16 can be excluded but they must be re-enrolled at another school.

Naenae College handed down the most suspensions in the lower North Island, with 35. Principal John Russell defended the school.

The figures were skewed because the college was responsible for two alternative "mop-up" education centres handling pupils from around Hutt Valley with behaviour and truancy problems.

Most suspensions were for theft, vandalism, assaults or disobedience.

"We're working pretty proactively to head things off before they get to suspension levels."

Nationally, Maori pupils were more likely to be kicked out for misbehaviour than non-Maori, and boys were summoned to principals' offices more often than girls.

Children aged between 13 and 15 made up the bulk of naughty pupils.

Schools usually resorted to formal disciplinary procedures only after exhausting other options such as contacting parents, detentions, counselling and restorative justice meetings.

Education Minister Steve Maharey said suspensions were slightly down on 2005 but admitted more work was needed to deal with major concerns about pupil attendance.

"This is not just an issue for the Government or for schools. We all need to work together to send a strong message to young people that staying in school and learning is essential to their future."

New attendance guidelines, issued yesterday, would help schools crackdown on truancy, suspensions and stand-downs through better information and advice.

The Government also wanted schools to reduce truancy rates by 20 per cent in the next five years.

Post Primary Teachers Association president Robin Duff said pupils and teachers would be put at risk if disruptive children were kept in mainstream classes "at any cost".

He called for more alternative education resources to deal with difficult pupils.

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