Is it time to rethink school suspension?

by | Nov 30, 2018 | Education

A recent report has revealed that schools in Queensland are resorting to suspensions and expulsions at an alarmingly increasing rate.

So is there a reciprocal improvement in student behaviour? Unsurprinsingly, no.

Legislative Framework

Almost five years ago, legislation was introduced that gave school principals increased disciplinary powers, and limited parents’ ability to appeal decisions that had been made by internal school disciplinary committees. These changed were purportedly spurred on by an increase in school exclusions by principals, and the Education Minister claiming that these changes would lead to an overall reduction in suspension and expulsion by ensuring that students were aware that their schools would be taking such action seriously and that principals would have greater involvement. It has now been proven that this solution has not been effective.

Why we know that, in general, suspension doesn’t work.

Educators by-and-large agree that student exclusion is not the answer – and there’s a host of evidence for this, along with a range of factors at-play. First of all, exclusion doesn’t promote the replacement of trouble behaviours. Children – especially adolescents who have exhibited anti-social behaviour – need to be shown how to replace their inappropriate behaviours and train their brain to catch themselves “before the fact” to help build better neural pathways.

Further, exclusion can lead to students feeling less of a sense of belonging to a school community, often amplified by a further weakening in their academic standing due to missed class and other learning opportunities. Certain suspensions allow for supervised periods of work in-school, but these are rarely in a teaching environment and are rather in a disciplinary environment. This has the negative impact of limiting the student’s classroom time, and increasing their separation from their peers and community.

Then, of course, there are children who will see suspension as a reward rather than a punishment. There is a certain ‘street cred’ for children whose sense of self in intertwined with their rebelliousness through adolescence. Not to mention the children who are already disrupting class because they struggle with the work, have trouble concentrating, or are struggling with the cognitive (or similar) issues which often lead to the problem behaviours in the first place.

What are better ideas?

Professor Linda J. Graham of QUT proposes the following strategies that teachers can adopt as alternatives to classroom exclusion:

  • clear and consistent routines
  • well-designed seating plans
  • variations in verbal tone and pace with frequent pauses to allow students to process information
  • clear and simple verbal instructions delivered in logical sequence
  • visual aids to enhance students’ comprehension of verbally described concepts and/or complementary written instructions
  • regular reiteration of learning objectives, instructions, and classroom expectations
  • positive reinforcement of good behaviour and recognition of effort
  • providing one-to-one clarification and feedback to students who experience learning and behavioural difficulties
  • in-class pairing with another student who is a friendly and academically supportive role model.

Professor Graham continues: “For some students these strategies will not be enough on their own and these students will need more intensive supports, such as targeted interventions to enhance academic skills, counselling, mentoring/monitoring, and skills training for teachers.”

Developing Good Habits

If children CAN do well at something, they generally WILL do well at it. Problem behaviours are often just a symptom of an underlying problem that gets in the way of a child performing his best.

Behaviour, like study, can be made a habit. Conversely, consistent study can assist in student’s motivation and improve their sense of belonging, achievement, and purpose.

Let’s keep kids in school by focusing on their individual needs, along with their unique gifts and talents, so that every student feels they have a special and productive place within their school community.