Please suspend your judgment

By Greg Whitby, 4 December 2019
Greg Whitby AM is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.

 

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

The tough topic of school suspensions has been back in the news lately. Whatever I say about this one will leave some readers unsatisfied. Yet it’s important to speak up as these decisions can have such an impact on the lives and learning of very vulnerable young people.

Some recent accounts have highlighted the heartbreaking figures around suspension of really little kids. I think we should be encouraged by community concern about the fact that more than 600 kindergarten children were suspended in NSW last year. It’s a shame that some of the reflection on these matters has been a bit sketchy.

The story of a student who starts school so unready for the experience deserves more attention, and more compassion too. We really need to look hard at what students bring to school…and I’m not talking about lunchboxes or pencils. In some cases, this includes the experience of trauma.

Some students come to the classroom with experiences that any caring adult would see as outside the scope of childhood. Others shoulder responsibilities that are beyond their years, including as carers for family members. Some practical ways that we can help include training teachers to recognise this and provide specialised support.

The finger pointing about who is to blame for students’ unacceptable behaviour is entirely unhelpful. As far as I am concerned, the wellbeing and learning of each child has to be seen as a partnership between home and school. Most of us will never know the full story behind a suspension, but all of us must acknowledge that it’s a human one.

So suspend your judgement: of parents and carers, of school decision-makers and particularly of children who are acting out. This doesn’t mean inaction on disruption, compromises on student and staff safety or an end to the practice of suspension from school. What is does mean is that we need to do our very best to support every student, and sometimes that’s not as straightforward as it seems.

Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

 

Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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