Illawarra students rack up suspensions

The number of long suspensions handed out in the Illawarra has increased over the past five years, with almost 2000 handed out to students in 2012.

According to NSW Education Department figures, 1860 long suspensions of up to 20 days were given to 1275 primary and high school students in the Illawarra and South East region.

There were 182 students suspended in Wollongong, 124 in "Wollongong North" and 191 in Shellharbour. Figures for the Illawarra and South East region include schools in Goulburn, the Far South Coast and the Shoalhaven.

In 2011, 1559 suspensions were given to 1093 students, while in 2008, 1365 suspensions were given to 984 children.

Across the state, nearly 13,000 children were "long suspended" in 2012, the highest number since 2008. The average length of the suspensions was 11.8 days with most suspensions given to students in years 7 to 10.

The majority of suspensions were due to persistent misbehaviour and physical violence, a trend reflected in the Illawarra. Five suspensions in the region were because of serious criminal behaviour related to the school.

NSW Teachers Federation regional organiser Nicole Calnan said the increase in suspensions didn't necessarily indicate students' behaviour was worsening, but that the suspension policy was being enforced.

"I don't think behaviours are getting worse, I think there's a greater understanding of the suspension policy and teachers are drawing a line in the sand saying this is the behaviour we expect in our schools and these are the consequences if you don't meet that standard," she said.

Ms Calnan said suspensions gave schools time to conduct risk assessments and develop behaviour management plans to minimise the chance of students exhibiting behaviours that got them suspended once they returned to school. She believed schools would benefit from extra resources, such as more permanent counsellors, to deal with behaviour management.

A spokesman from the Department of Education said while most schools did not have to "long suspend" any student, inappropriate behaviour was not tolerated by NSW public schools.

He said suspensions were effective at preventing future poor behaviour.

He also hit back at any suggestion a lack of school counsellors was linked to the increase in suspensions, with 790 school counsellors employed by the department.

"The number of counsellors has not been reduced. Schools are receiving more assistance, with 50 student support officers employed in strategic areas since 2011 to address issues affecting student conduct."

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