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Bad behaviour: Suspensions on the rise

Wairarapa schools are taking a hard line on bad behaviour, with the number of suspensions rising, particularly among young teenagers.
Ministry of Education [MoE] data showed 30 Wairarapa students were suspended this year, up from 24 in 2021.
Of those students, 16 were female, more than double
the number suspended last year.
Despite 12 to 14-year-olds representing only 24 per cent of the region’s student population, they accounted for 64 per cent of students suspended in the past five years.
Continual disobedience, drug use [including substance abuse], physical assault on students, and physical assault on staff, were the most common reasons for student suspension.
Masterton Intermediate School [MIS] and Lakeview School said students were also stood down for vaping, bullying, and verbally abusing teachers.
MIS principal Russell Thompson attributed the high rate of disciplinary action among pre-teens and young teens to their “not yet fully developed” brains.
“A lot of these kids just don’t understand consequences; they don’t think about the impact of their actions.
“We have a line in the sand about behaviour at MIS, and that will never change.
“The day we let kids swear at teachers, bully, or vape in school without punishment, is the day we need to close down,” he said.
When a student is stood down, they must stay home for up to five days before returning to school.
Every year, Wairarapa schools stand down close to three per cent of students. Slightly above the two per cent national average.
“Our country is putting up with too much at the moment; kids need to know that if you want to come to school, there will be behaviour expectations,” Thompson said.
A suspension is more severe than a stand down and involves a meeting with the board of trustees before the student is allowed to return to school.
At the meeting, the board would decide to either expel or exclude the suspended student or allow them to return to school with or without conditions.
Thompson said suspended students were often disengaged with school activities, and sometimes had conditions to join groups, such as Kapa Haka, upon their return.
Lakeview School principal Tim Nelson said he had high expectations when it came to behaviour, but said the decision to stand down or suspend a student was not taken lightly.
“Suspensions, which can lead to an exclusion, are a last resort,” he said.
Schools can permanently exclude students under 16 years old, but the principal must find the student an alternative school.
Thompson said schools rarely excluded students and only did so when the student repeatedly made the school unsafe.
While 240 students were stood down in Wairarapa this year, only eight students were excluded from a regional population of close to 8000.
Much like suspensions, 65 per cent of excluded students were between 12 and 14 years old.
MoE said removing a student from school should only happen after other interventions had tried and failed to improve the situation.
It also said it was important to note that stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions, and expulsions were a measure of a specific school’s response to a particular behaviour.
“What one school may choose to suspend or expel a student for, another school may not,” an MoE spokesperson said.
Rangitane o Wairarapa, Rural Education Activities Programmes, [REAP], and MoE operate targeted programmes in Wairarapa to re-engage younger students at risk of exclusion, move older students into work, and reduce chronic truancy.

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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