Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Schools made to take back booted-out kids

Ministry order mainly affects rural areas and small towns where options limited

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Schools are being made to re-enrol students they had kicked out for bad behaviour including carrying weapons, physical assaults and drug use.

In the past year, there have been 11 incidences where the Ministry of Education has directed a school to take back a student previously excluded.

The cases involved eight schools and students aged from 11 to 15, information released to the Herald reveals.

Schools can resist an order to take back a student, commonly where pupil or staff safety is an issue.

Last year, the ministry backed down on an order for Paeroa Central School to take back a 10-year-old who had assaulted a teacher and told other students he would "cut them up with a knife".

When a student is excluded from a school, it must try to get them enrolled elsewhere.

If this does not happen, the ministry can direct another local school to enrol the student, or direct the pupil's last school to lift the exclusion and allow their return.

That option is more common for rural or small town schools, often the only viable schooling option.

Cromwell College was one of eight schools between May and June last year that was directed to lift an exclusion.

The others were Aranui High (Christchurch), Dannevirke South School, East Otago High (Palmerston), Mountainview High (Timaru), Southland Boys (Invercargill), Te Kuiti High and Waitaki Girls (Oamaru).

Cromwell principal Mason Stretch would not reveal the reasons for the exclusions but said the direction related to more than one student.

"I don't think any board is happy when they have decided that person is to be excluded based on what they see as the needs of the overall schooling community. But the ministry has that right to redirect, and we acknowledge that and we have to work with it."

Efforts had centred around restorative conferences for the excluded students, their families, school staff and other people affected by the behaviour.

Mr Stretch said the ministry had provided support for this process, including staff training, and it had worked well.

"That basically cleared the air, so since then we've had no issues with those students. The restorative process, in terms of their return, was critical."

Cromwell College, a decile 8 school with about 400 students, tries to head off issues at an early stage, and its suspension rate is below the average for comparable schools.

"Hitting someone with a big stick doesn't necessarily improve behaviour," Mr Stretch said.

Ian Baldwin, who has been principal of Southland Boys' for 15 years, said that when he first started, being made to accept back an excluded student was more common and problematic.

However, local schools now worked together, through the Invercargill Secondary Schools Network Trust, to pool resources and there were a number of off-site programmes for students with behavioural issues.

The ministry had given schools much more flexibility in such cases, Mr Baldwin said.

There were 44 students excluded from school and then enrolled at another school at the direction of the ministry between May and June last year.

In the same period, 84 students were excluded from school and enrolled at the Correspondence School under the ministry's direction.

- NZ Herald

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