Schools are illegally pressuring difficult students to leave and an independent authority needs to be set up to review expulsions and exclusions, a community law advocate says.
The push for change comes as figures obtained by the Herald show that one school used suspensions more than 100 times in an 18-month period.
A principals' federation has rejected the call for independent reviewing of exclusions and expulsions - but says the figures are troubling and an overhaul of how problem students are taught is needed. Since 2012, 692 schools have suspended students a total of 4,761 times, resulting in 1,760 students being kicked out, information obtained under the Official Information Act shows.
A suspension is the formal removal of a student from a state or state integrated school until the board of trustees decides to lift the suspension, extend it, or make the student leave school (exclusion for children under 16 and expulsion for those who are older).
Western Heights High School, which has a roll of around 1,560, had the highest number of suspensions with 104, resulting in 16 exclusions and fewer than five expulsions.
Principal Violet Pelham said parents wanted the school to be safe and suspensions had proved an effective deterrent.
Youthlaw acting senior solicitor Vanushi Walters said the real number of children being kicked out of school was not reflected in official statistics. Queries fielded by the centre showed that principals sometimes tried to get rid of certain students by telling their parents to withdraw them from school or they would be excluded or expelled. This could be put to the parents as being in the child's best interest. Youthlaw viewed these instances, known as "Kiwi suspensions", as illegal.
Ms Walters said even when the formal suspension process was followed, decisions could be unfair, leaving students and their families with little realistic recourse.
The most realistic option was asking a board to reconsider their ruling, which had obvious limitations.
Youthlaw is renewing its push for the establishment of an independent review function for board of trustees decisions. Such tribunals had been operating in the United Kingdom for some time.
Principals' Federation president Phil Harding said he did not believe there was a need for such a change. He had sat through a number of disciplinary hearings and knew that boards were not out to "flip kids on a whim".
He said the number of suspensions and exclusions at some schools was undoubtedly high and therefore troubling, but it reflected wider community issues and problems.
Education Minister Hekia Parata said the Government was investing in alternative pathways for at-risk students, including the Youth Guarantee initiatives and Vocational Pathways.
• 4,761 school suspensions since 2012
• 1,764 students kicked out of school
• 104 suspensions at one school alone
- Source: Ministry of Education, for state and state integrated schools from 01/01/2012 - 26/06/2013