Hunter school suspensions rise

VIOLENT and persistent misbehaviour in Hunter and Central Coast schools has risen in the past four years but education advocates deny classrooms are out of control.

NSW Education Department figures on long suspensions and expulsions show 13 students are being suspended or expelled every day from one of the region’s state schools.

A Newcastle Herald analysis of the data found the proportion of students in the region to be suspended for up to 20 days rose from 1.9 to 2.5per cent between 2008 and 2011.

The region was also ranked equal third in the state last year for the percentage of students given long suspensions (2.5per cent).

State school students were suspended in 2011 for violence, persistent misbehaviour, criminal behaviour, illegal drugs, and possessing or making threats with weapons.

In the Hunter the most long suspensions were for persistent misbehaviour (47per cent) followed by physical violence (41per cent).

The region, which has some of highest enrolments in NSW, also had the highest number of expulsions in 2011 with 91 students ejected from schools for misbehaviour and 11 for unsatisfactory participation.

Schools in western Lake Macquarie had the highest proportion of badly behaved students in the Hunter but students in Port Stephens and Dungog were not far behind.

Most long suspensions happen when students are between years 7 and 10.

Education advocates said the rise in the proportion of students receiving suspensions reflected a discipline crackdown in Hunter schools because students were no longer getting away with misbehaviour.

NSW Teachers Federation Hunter organiser Fred Dumbrell said there was increased reporting and he encouraged teachers to continue to use the procedures.

He said the situation was not out of control and said such incidents happened throughout the community, with schools no exception.

‘‘There are certain areas of the Hunter where social problems of the broader community are reflected in the schools,’’ he said.

‘‘It comes and goes in waves, in some schools it might reflect students who have a particular problem.’’

Mr Dumbrell said it was important to remember there were a range of students in state schools from those who were academically gifted to those who struggled with behaviour.

A NSW Education Department spokesman said schools remained among the safest places for children in the community.

They pointed to evidence that the majority of assaults involving young people did not take place on school grounds and did not involve a weapon of any type.

‘‘The suspension procedures mandate principals to take strong action in situations where they believe there is a risk to the health and safety of students and staff,’’ the spokesman said.

‘‘Following an incident, the principal notifies the NSW Police Force and the School Safety and Response Hotline so that support and advice can be provided.’’

Newcastle and Lake Macquarie District Council of P&C spokeswoman Margaret Bryden said parents felt the suspension system was outdated and rewarded misbehaving students with a holiday.

‘‘If their parents are working parents it creates all sorts of problems,’’ she said.

‘‘It doesn’t solve the problem of them fitting in at school.’’

She said parents would like to see schemes that dealt with misbehaviour inside the school and worked to re-engage students with the school community.

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