A Youth Law report released today shows a rise in schools using illegal methods to exclude and suspend students, with Māori and special needs students being particularly affected. Although Ministry of Education (MOE) figures show a decline in formal disciplinary measures, there was evidence to show schools were increasingly using informal methods instead.
Māori teachers at Rutherford College say students should come before stats, following the results of the Barriers to Education report that shows an increase of students being ejected from schools by informal disciplinary means.
"There is a lot of dodging or strategies that push kids out of schools- that does not make a good school,” says Māori Development Officer Jeff Ruha, “It might make for good stats but what about the kids that are forced to leave? What is more important, the kids or the stats? I believe it is the kids who are the leaders of tomorrow and we need to support them no matter what the circumstance."
The report says the average age of formal removal from school is 13.5-years, although it's reported that children as young as 6-years-old are frequently being excluded. It is argued that permanent removal is no longer seen as a last resort but rather it has become normalised as a prevalent routine punishment.
"If you are removing someone you're essentially pushing the problem somewhere else so another school may need to accept that student,” says report author Jennifer Walsh, “And if they're not accepted then they're out of the schooling system or in alternative education which might not meet their needs at all."
While official MOE figures show a decline in the rate of stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions, it does not record the rate of illegal or informal methods where students were covertly encouraged to withdraw from school or 'kiwi suspensions' because it does not recognise the practice.
“If the students don’t make it to Year 13 like they aspire to it knocks their self-confidence,” says Ruha, “In the past nine years there were four children I was aware of who were pushed from school and told to go elsewhere. Now, only one of them is alive today, three of them have died and that is not acceptable."
MOE says permanent removal has not become normalised and there is no way of knowing whether there is a link between so-called kiwi-suspensions and any official attendance figures because they are only anecdotal.