A Hawke's Bay principal is calling for more support from the Government to help deal with challenging children as new data shows the number of suspensions and stand-downs in the region was on a sharp rise before the Covid-19 lockdown.
Statistics released to Hawke's Bay Today by the Ministry of Education (MoE) under the Official Information Act show that, with the exception of a Covid-interrupted 2020, schools are using the disciplinary measures more than ever before.
In 2016 there were 147 suspensions in the region, and from 2017 to 2019 the number rose every year to a high of 216 in 2019.
This dropped to 123 in 2020, which New Zealand Principals' Federation president Perry Rush says is a mere anomaly caused by Covid-19 disruption.
Stand-downs in the region also increased - and then decreased in 2020 - at similar rates.
The data shows Wairoa College had by far the highest number of suspensions in Hawke's Bay, with 136 in three years. The school declined to comment for this article.
It was followed by Napier Boys' High School, which had 37 in three years.
NBHS principal Matt Bertram said the reasons for their suspensions over the period were assault, abuse of staff, continual disobedience, substance abuse, harmful digital use and dangerous behaviour.
The number was higher in 2019 due to two incidents involving a large number of students with illegal substances, Bertram said.
Personal circumstances impact on student behaviour and engagement, and the board learns about these circumstances in suspension hearings, he said.
The school with the highest number of stand-downs was Hastings Girls' High School, (155 over three years), followed by Wairoa College (132) and Karamu High School (128).
Rush said the three problem behaviours in NZ schools are physical and verbal attacks on students and staff, drugs and continued disobedience.
The data shows the most common reason for stand-downs in Hawke's Bay in 2020 was physical assaults on other students, with 203 instances of this.
This was followed by continual disobedience, with 106 instances of this in 2020, and verbal attacks on staff, of which there were 56 instances in 2020.
MoE would not release exclusion and expulsion data due to numbers being so low that it could impinge on privacy.
But other data released to Hawke's Bay Today shows the Hawke's Bay/Tairawhiti area has the highest exclusion rate for students in New Zealand - 0.17 per cent of the student population were excluded in 2020 - slightly above Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast and Tai Tokerau at 0.16 per cent.
Rush said there were complex social reasons leading to behaviour that prompts disciplinary action, but increasing poverty and socio-economic challenges and the impact of drugs, and past and present traumas are factors.
Students weren't suspended for minor behaviour issues, he said.
Hawke's Bay Secondary School Principals' Association chairwoman Dawn Ackroyd also said students' personal circumstances are a factor in behavioural issues, and the reason why numbers differ between schools.
"[Behaviour] is quite often a symptom of need and wellbeing and we need to assist them to help address their wellbeing."
Rush, of Hastings Intermediate School, said principals were calling for the Government to provide more support and options for schools to deal with students who are experiencing crisis and trauma.
"As a practising principal myself, my greatest frustration when it comes to young people who are in crisis is the almost complete dysfunction of the agencies that should be stepping forward and supporting whanau, supporting the young person, supporting the school," Rush said.
He also wants more pastoral care in schools, particularly primary and intermediate schools, which don't have on-site guidance counsellors.
Rush said the Government had announced its support of Mana Ake, a service based in Christchurch, but while it had seen success, it was not principals' favoured approach as it was not in-school counselling.
"Often when we see Government reacting to issues for young people, sometimes it is the approach that is the least expensive that finds favour."
He believes there is greater benefit in supporting schools to employ counselling staff for behavioural issues, because when young people are experiencing a crisis at school, they need help in that moment.
Ackroyd said stand-downs and suspensions never happened in isolation and there was a lot of support and work that happens with students before and after the disciplinary action.
Sometimes it can be a positive move, prompting discussion between the school, board and family which can mean appropriate support is put in place, she said.
When students returned from lockdown in 2020, a lot of secondary schools increased their level of pastoral care, and the Ministry of Education were "fantastic" in providing funding for schools to do so, she said.
Ministry of Education deputy secretary of sector enablement & support Katrina Casey said Budget 2020 committed $75.8 million over four years for large secondary schools and kura to increase access to guidance counsellors to deal with mental health and wellbeing issues that arose from Covid-19.
Of that, $31.8m will go to the schools to employ about 90 full-time-equivalent guidance counsellor positions. These schools have already received funding for 2021.
The $43.9m over four years of the Budget commitment is designed to give schools access to organisations with expertise in guidance counselling for children and young people.
MoE and the NZ Association of Counsellors are currently evaluating proposals from organisations to deliver this and are also designing how the service would operate with input from sector peak bodies, counselling bodies, schools and other Government agencies, including health.
These counsellors are expected to be starting during term 2.
A different approach
At one Napier education facility, they're turning children that schools struggle to deal with into success stories.
Te Tupu Managed Moves exists as a place for schools to send troubled pupils, instead of suspending them.
Opened in 2019, Te Tupu provides a collaborative community approach to support the Year 3 to 8s.
New Zealand Principals' Federation president Perry Rush would like to see it extended around NZ.
Te Tupu Governance Committee chairperson Jo Smith said schools can refer students who then go to the centre and receive flexible, wraparound support tailored to them which focusses first on Hauora (health and wellbeing), then on education.
It has support from organisations such as Sport Hawke's Bay taking them for sports every week and the Leg Up Trust providing equine therapy.
The school remains in touch with the students when they are at Te Tupu and then transition back to their school.
Of the 35 students which have been through Te Tupu, 32 have been successfully re-engaged into an education setting, Smith said.
One child who had been excluded from their primary school and out of the schooling system for a year came to Te Tupu, received the tailored support he needed, and was able to transfer back to the school system.
Another child who had been suffering with anger management and social relationships and after the appropriate support was put in place, they were also able to re-engage with school and now a year later they don't need those supports anymore.
Several have also gone on successfully to high school, and many have had wraparound support and the development of a plan with whanau for helping mental health issues.
Not all Te Tupu students are there because of violence, she said.
Rush believes it is a more effective system than post-suspension students re-engaging in school, or being directed to enrol at another school, without sufficient therapeutic support.
Stand-down, suspension, expulsion or exclusion?
A stand-down is when at the decision of the school principal, a student is removed from the school for up to five days in a school term.
A student can only be stood down for a total of 10 school days in a year.
A suspension is the formal removal of a student from a state or state-integrated school on a temporary basis until the school board of trustees decides the outcome at a suspension meeting.
The board can either lift the suspension, extend the suspension, exclude the student (if under 16) or expel the student (if 16 or older).
Exclusions and expulsions are parts of suspension where the enrolment is terminated.
If the student is aged under 16, the board of trustees may decide to exclude a student with the requirement that they enrol elsewhere.
Only if the student is older than 16 does the board have the ability to expel them from the school, with no other requirement.