Home' Teacher : December 2009 Contents 52 TEACHER DECEMBER 2009
Recent policy shifts in education are con-
fronting schools with a problem. We've
developed socially-inclusive campuses,
reflecting our understanding that school
suspension and other punitive practices are
outdated. New policies and legislation to
raise the school leaving age to 17 years are,
however, likely to put this commitment to
the test. Increasing numbers of frustrated
students with a fluctuating interest in learn-
ing and variable academic abilities will pres-
sure existing student management practices.
It's already com mon for troublesome indi-
viduals to be removed from the student
body. In Victoria in 2007, for example, 12
per cent of Year 10 students aged 15 to 16
years reported they had been suspended at
least once within 12 months.
When managing violent, antisocial or
chronically disruptive student behaviour,
schools face competing demands. Of pri-
mary concern is the maintenance of a safe
and healthy teaching and learning envi-
ronment for the entire school community.
At the same time, the needs and potential
consequences for the individual student also
The downward spiral
For the individual, suspension increases
the risk of worsening academic problems,
school disengagement and drop-out, par-
ticipation in crime and delinquency, and
alcohol and drug use.
Our International Youth Development
Study of 4,000 Years 7 and 9 students from
Victoria and the state of Washington in
the United States found that a student sus-
pended from school is:
50 per cent more likely to engage in anti-
social behaviour 12 months later, and
70 per cent more likely to engage in vio -
lent behaviour 12 months later.
The study established that the detrimen-
tal effect of suspension is over and above
other negative influences on student behav-
iour. These include family conflict, social
and economic disadvantage, and mixing
with friends who get into trouble.
The reasons for the association between
school suspension and challenging behav-
iour are likely to be many and varied, but
anecdotal evidence provides some insight.
For students who don't like going to
school, a suspension gives them what they
want -- time off school. Suspension may also
provide individuals with a notoriety that
attracts the attention and the admiration of
their peers. For such students, the behaviour
that gets them into trouble is rewarded, and
therefore they're more likely to repeat it in
While suspended, students may lack
super vision by an adult. In addition, they're
released from the moderating influence of
routine provided by schoolwork and organ-
ised recreational activities. Boredom is a
likely outcome. This situation generates an
opportunity to link up with other young
people who get into trouble and to partici-
pate in risk-taking activities.
Suspension is also likely to reduce lea rn -
ing opportunities and increase the risk of
falling behind in school work. For students
already experiencing academic difficulties,
suspension may be the trigger that leads to
decreased engagement in learning, while
also promoting challenging behaviour.
For many students, particularly those
from disadvantaged backgrounds, the school
environment and school friends may be an
important and positive part of their lives.
To be disconnected from this through sus-
pension may remove students from a vital
support during difficult times.
Encouraging students to complete their
schooling increases employment oppor-
tunities and improves their life choices.
Conversely, excluding students from school
reduces their chances of completing studies
and can adversely affect subsequent oppor-
tu nities for the rest of their lives.
School suspension is often legitimised on
the grounds of keeping other students and
staff safe, but research reveals a paradox.
Students and staff report a lower sense of
security, a less positive school climate and
the achievement of poorer academic results
EVIDENCE IS BUILDING THAT THE DAMAGING EFFECTS OF SUSPENSION MAY BE MORE
FAR-REACHING THAN ANTICIPATED, FOR BOTH THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE SCHOOL
COMMUNITY, WRITE SHERYL HEMPHILL AND JOHN HARGREAVES.
Quick fix or lasting harm?
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