Schools get smarter at discipline

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Fewer suspensions and expulsions do not mean kids are behaving better, writes Vaimoana Tapaleao.

Naomi Nanai says she's had school meetings twice to discuss her son Latu, 5, but never for 12-year-old PJ or the boys' older siblings. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Naomi Nanai says she's had school meetings twice to discuss her son Latu, 5, but never for 12-year-old PJ or the boys' older siblings. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The number of students being stood down for bad behaviour is at its lowest point for more than a decade.

Suspensions and exclusions are slightly lower than previous years and the number of pupils being expelled from school is also the lowest it has been in years.

But principals, teachers and other experts say there is still an increasing number of children who are difficult to handle and that schools simply had better restorative programmes in place now - rather than children becoming better behaved.

The latest figures on stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsion rates, released by the Ministry of Education, show a drop in all areas.

In particular, stand-down rates have fallen for the fifth consecutive year since peaking in 2006.

Back then, the age-standardised stand-down rate stood at 30.9 per 1000 students.

The numbers fell to 24.5 stand-downs per 1000 students in 2011.

Maori pupils and male students in particular continue to top the number of stand-downs.

Maori also had a higher number of stand-downs than any other ethnic group, while Asian students had the lowest. The students least likely to be stood down from school were Asian girls.

NZ Principals' Federation president Phil Harding said schools had become smarter about addressing misbehaviour in the classroom.

"I'm not certain that [the figures] necessarily represent a change in human behaviour as much as a commitment from schools to do all they can," said Mr Harding.

"Schools are owning their kids and saying they're going to look for ways to modify and to change, to speak to the whanau and to do whatever it takes, because we recognise that booting a kid out isn't actually helping that family find a solution.

"There's a whole lot of initiatives across the sector that are contributing to changes in student behaviour and maybe some of those are starting to work."

Such restorative measures include having a conflict management programme in place, introducing peer monitoring, buddy systems, and a no-blame approach to bullying.

Having restorative systems in place may well account for the drop in expulsions throughout the country. In 2011, the age-standardised expulsion rate was 1.6 - the lowest since 2004.

Mr Harding, who is principal at Christchurch's Paparoa Street Primary School, said restorative measures provided an actual solution rather than just a punishment.

"It's a wonderful way to reveal to children the impact of what they're doing. It's a much more powerful driver than simple punishment or saying, 'you're out of this school, we hate you, go find somewhere else'. How does that help a child?

"I'd like to think that's a big factor than suddenly kids have all turned good. It's reflecting probably those other factors."

Secondary Principals' Association president Patrick Walsh reiterated those ideas, saying the figures did not mean students were becoming better behaved.

"In the past a student was suspended or stood down automatically. We're now seeing more schools using restorative practices, where they meet with a student and discuss their behaviour and how it can be improved."

Mr Walsh said cyberbullying and text bullying had also skyrocketed and those behind it could easily go unpunished as they were sometimes hard to track down.

In 2011 there were 46.1 stand- downs per 1000 students for Maori - 1.5 times higher than Pasifika pupils and 2.6 times higher than European or Pakeha. Those from poorer backgrounds were also more likely to be stood down.

Other figures - categorised by the type of behaviour that resulted in a stand-down, suspension or expulsion - indicate why many students were punished.

Up to 25.5 per cent of students were stood down because of physical assaults on other students, while 21.9 per cent received a stand-down because of continual disobedience.

More serious reasons for stand- downs included consuming or bringing alcohol to school, 3.6 per cent, arson, 0.4 per cent, and physical assault on staff, 2.7 per cent.

Psychologist Fiona Ayers, who has more than 20 years' experience and is also a qualified teacher, said changing lifestyles and various changes within society had led to some big changes in children's behaviour.

"A lot of it comes down to that they haven't had the experience of boundaries. They find it quite difficult to do things like sit on the mat for 10 minutes, sit on their seats and read. We see kids that don't sleep at night - there's the TV running all night and they're watching programmes after 8.30pm and fall asleep on the couch," Mrs Ayers said.

"We don't discount the impact of video games. A lot of them are playing R18 video games and lots of homes now have an Xbox or PlayStation attachment.

"There are a lot more challenging children than there used to be," she said.

Editor of parent information website Kiwi Families Rochelle Gribble said young people were more aware of their surroundings and not afraid to confront authority.

"There is less respect for teachers and, sometimes, parents. I overheard my dad and his partner the other day talking about what it was like back when I was young.

"When a child did something wrong, you'd get a clip around the ear and that would be it. Today practices are very different obviously."

The Ministry of Education's latest initiative is a new website set up this year - Wellbeing@school - to help teachers and parents share best practice in tackling bad behaviour, including bullying.

Mum blames changing world for behaviour issues

A different world has led to differences in behaviour for one Auckland family.

Mother of four Naomi Nanai, of Glendene, says her eldest children, aged 19, 18 and 12, were much better behaved than her youngest child, aged 5.

Her 19-year-old daughter Parma and 18-year-old son Evan - both university students - had been easy children, she said. So too was 12-year-old son PJ.

"My older kids were quiet and not at all difficult. The boys were sometimes a handful, but nothing big. There was never a time when I was called into school because of any bad behaviour."

However, she admits her youngest son, Latu, had been trouble.

"I've been called into school twice because of his behaviour. He's a loving boy but he's not scared of anybody.

"The teachers are the same ones who taught my older children and they say, 'oh he's very different from the other kids'."

She said the modern world's elevated consumption had created different expectations - and had a knock-on effect on behaviour.

She added her family could not afford much when her eldest were young, and they valued what they had more.

"My youngest son has more things like toys, compared to my older children.

"Latu, though, lives in a different world today. There are computers, cellphones, DVDs and video games."

Mrs Nanai said there were only slight differences in the way she had raised her children.

She hoped her youngest son would grow out of his bad behaviour and follow in his siblings' footsteps and do well at school.

"When he is naughty I send him to his room or say he can't watch cartoons until the weekend.

"I hope he grows up and is a good boy."

- NZ Herald

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