Crime fears when schools have to kick students out

By Gary Hamilton-Irvine, Teuila Fuatai

Disengaged students ejected from mainstream schooling into correspondence learning are more likely to become criminal offenders, a Rotorua school principal warns.

An Education Ministry review has found the current system is failing at-risk students by dumping them with the Cor

respondence School, Radio New Zealand reported.

About 4000 students are enrolled with the Correspondence School full-time, around half of whom are considered to be at risk of under-achieving.

Thousands more are enrolled part-time.

Many of these students have been excluded from mainstream schools, have behavioural problems or are in youth custodial facilities.

"Schools now have little choice when a child behaves in a manner at school that puts themselves or others at risk,

they have to act to exclude them,'' Westbrook School principal Colin Watkins said.

"Often principals are very reluctant to do that but they also have to consider the health and welfare of the other students and the staff. The only option they've got is correspondence.''

Mr Watkins agreed with the report's recommendations for extra support and mentoring for those learners through local schools, iwi or alternative education centres.

"The very issues that helped create the problems in the first place are compounded because these children are not getting any support from any specialists in their areas of need.

"Sitting at home arguing with their parents as to whether they should do some assignments for Correspondence School is absolutely no good at all,'' he said.

In the Central North Island, which covers Rotorua, the wider Bay of Plenty, Hawke's Bay, the central North Island and Waikato, 3240 students were enrolled in a paper at the Correspondence School in March.

Career Network Rotorua programme manager Lynn Gillespie said the biggest issue facing at-risk children studying by correspondence was they often did not have the self-management skills to succeed.

"I would say correspondence is certainly better than nothing,'' she said.

"But a lot of those children don't have the self-management skills to work through correspondence at home. They need someone to help them work.''

She said once children turned 16, they could go into alternative education, like Career Networks, but until then correspondence was the only option.

Kaitao Middle School principal Rory O'Rourke said the Ministry of Education had set up a number of funds to keep at-risk students in mainstream schools.

He said if excluded students, from other schools, approached Kaitao they would always agree to an interview with the child as long as the ministry was present.

Mr O'Rourke said the ministry often agreed to support an excluded student by paying for a teacher aide to assist them back into school integration.

He said  three students,  who were excluded from other schools, are currently attending Kaitao.

Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft said too many young people who disengaged from learning became youth offenders.

"We know from police figures that 25 per cent of youth offending can take place between 9am and 3pm.''

About 80 per cent of the offenders who appeared in the Youth Court were not engaged in school or even enrolled.

"We were always concerned that our most troubled young offenders often found themselves on the roll of the Correspondence School.

``I think the word `dumping ground' is extreme and after we used that in 2006 and 2007 I visited the Correspondence School regularly. They were clearly of the opinion they were up to the challenge, provided they were properly resourced.''

Correspondence School chief executive Mike Hollings agreed with Judge Becroft's comments.

He said partnership with local organisations could help address problems for those students struggling with "distance learning''.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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