A new student behaviour policy coming into effect in public schools in 2024 lists vaping and cyberbullying among specific grounds for suspension.
Illawarra principals say the updated policy will offer teachers more clarity and support when dealing with students' behavioural challenges.
A key aspect of the plan is a change to the grounds for which a student can be suspended.
Trisha Ladogna, director of behaviour and student participation, said there were currently two broad categories outlining the reasons for suspension: actual harm, and potential for harm.
Ms Ladogna said staff and families sometimes found this difficult to understand, so the overhauled policy listed 13 specific grounds and examples of the behaviours that might warrant suspension, although there was room for discretion.
These include persistent disruptive behaviour, malicious damage, weapon possession, physical or sexual violence, discrimination and verbal abuse, among others.
There will be no upper limit on the number of suspensions allowed in a year and departmental approval will not be required, unless the number of days a student is suspended crosses a certain threshold.
Department of Education deputy secretary for school performance - south, Deb Summerhayes, said the policy also made clear how the department would support teachers and schools in managing student behaviour.
There will be specialised staff to help schools with individual student planning and professional face-to-face training for staff.
Another 42 behaviour specialists will join 94 based around NSW by the end of June 2024, alongside 1200 counsellors and psychologists.
Oak Flats High School principal Angela Byron said this support was an important part of the policy.
It is especially so for Gabby Sheather, principal of Peterborough School in Warilla, which teaches students with disability.
"I think that obviously in our setting, with the complexity we have, we need a lot of support in places and we need to be working with families and service providers around what we can do to ensure students engage in school successfully," Ms Sheather said.
She said this policy would provide that support, which she believed was the result of the consultation that went into developing it.
Ms Summerhayes said a policy review undertaken a couple of years ago was called out for a lack of consultation, and this time around the input of education partners, such as teacher unions and representative bodies.
Ms Sheather said the policy clarified the roles of those there to provide support, which was "really helpful" because in a situation where support was needed, teachers were left thinking who they had to go to.
"That takes time, and when you've got families under stress and students under stress, you want to communicate with them in a timely manner," she said.
Ms Byron also said the new policy gave more clarity and consistency.
"There wasn't enough clarity in the current policy to ensure we were making consistent decisions, not only at our school but across the state," Ms Byron said.
The policy has come after tumultuous years for students, marked by COVID, floods and fires.
"Students did find it really challenging to be back in a room in school, and being in a structured environment for five hours a day," Ms Byron said.
Challenges in schools reflected the community, she said, and vaping and social media were two of the big ones.
But Ms Byron said difficult behaviours also offered schools an opportunity to talk to students and ensure they were safe and ready to learn.
"It's really what it's all about... making sure their wellbeing is as good as it can be, and they're in class and learning," she said.
About 320 principals and teachers from the Illawarra and further afield heard from Department of Education staff about the new policy at the UOW Innovation Campus on Tuesday.
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