Suspend your judgment

By Greg Whitby, 26 July 2017

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

Suspension is one of the most controversial strategies used by schools in response to very poor student behaviour. Speak to any student, parent or teacher and you’ll hear strong views and personal stories about when schools got it wrong on suspending (or failing to suspend) a student. Poorly managed student behaviour doesn’t just damage the learning and wellbeing of the student acting out. That’s why this classroom equivalent of a toddler time-out still has its place, provided it’s used rarely and in extreme cases as part of a broader student case management plan.

The strategies that schools use in response to poor student behaviour have changed drastically since my school days, either as a student or teacher. Yet I can assure you that teachers, and principals in particular, agonise over every decision to exclude a child from class. And quite frankly, there are times when student behaviour is very challenging and has the potential to put at risk the wellbeing of others. When suspension is done right, student learning during time away from class is part of the plan. In some cases, an in-school suspension may be possible. However, it is important to acknowledge that in other cases, students are excluded for their own safety or for the safety of others.

So where should schools start to address emerging behavioural issues? Firstly we need to look at what is happening in the lives of young people, including in the playground and at home. Many of the children and young people who are suspended from school have very complex needs. Extreme behaviour can be a cry for help so we’ve got to support young people in positive ways and to work on their individual strengths and capabilities. Case management looks at where a student is at as a person (socially, emotionally and academically) and builds towards their success, however challenging that may be.

Every student is everyone’s responsibility. It is important that teachers and parents work together to get the best outcomes for kids at risk of suspension. I understand that having a child suspended from school is stressful for parents, and often means needing to make alternative arrangements for supervision. When it comes to student behavioural management strategies, suspension is not a quick fix but there are times when it needs to be given serious consideration.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


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