Decline in school suspensions

By Nicholas McBride

West Coast schools say rewarding good behaviour is the reason for a decline in the number of stand-downs and suspensions over the past five years.
Ministry of Education figures for past year show a steady decrease in the disciplinary actions of the three West Coast districts. That includes a drop of more than 100 cases in the Grey district since 2009.
Buller had 46 stand-downs, Grey 24 and Westland 19. The expected number for the West Coast was 99.
In 2009, the Grey district alone had 136 stand-downs.
A stand-down is the removal of a student from school for a period of up to five days before returning to school.
Suspensions also fell, Buller and Grey both had nine, while Westland had two. The expected number for the region was 20. In 2009, the entire region had 51 cases.
A suspension is the formal removal of a student from a school until the board of trustees decides whether to lift or extend the suspension, or expel the student.
A ministry spokesman said the expected number of stand-downs was how many cases would have occurred if the national rates for each age were applied to the school or region in question.
“They are not a desired number of cases nor are they a projection,” the spokesman said.
Greymouth High School principal Andy England said the school had worked hard to establish clear expectations for students.
“We have had a huge effort to create expectations in school. If students know the expectations, they are far less likely to break them,” Mr England said.
Behavioural incidents had dropped, notably the school halved their referral rate out of the classroom, which had also halved on the previous year.
“The process around stand-downs hasn’t changed, the number coming to the stand-down stage has decreased. That’s a very good news story from the classroom.”
The school was reaping the success of the ministry’s ‘positive behaviour for learning’ programme, which had also been implemented in primary schools.
However, Mr England agreed synthetic drugs had been a “big problem” prior to them being outlawed.
Buller High School principal Andrew Basher said they did not want children out of school.
“Things have changed a bit. There was a phase where it was easy to stand a student down,” Mr Basher said.
“We get no joy about those kids not being in the classroom ... we don’t want our kids roaming the streets.”
Buller High also used a positive reward approach.
“Rather than hit them with the sword, we hit them with a bar of chocolate.”