From drugs to assaults to continual disobedience, the number of kids being stood-down in Rotorua reached a 10-year high last year. While the number is rising, violence from one student to another is coming through as the most common reason for young people to be excluded. Information released by the Ministry of Education shows children between 10 and 14 years old are the most frequently being pulled up for this. While some are surprised, others are not. Cira Oliver asks how do we combat violence in schools?
Students assaulting students made up nearly 40 per cent of the total stand-downs last year in Rotorua schools and principals are calling for more resources to help change behaviours.
Information released to the Rotorua Daily Post from the Ministry of Education found there were 221 stand-downs last year, the highest it has been in a decade.
Of these, 86 were for a student physically assaulting another student, and 52 of those were children aged between 10 and 14.
In 2017, there were a possible 76 student on student assaults.
The data provided by the Ministry showed of these assaults, there were 21 stand-downs of children aged 5 to 9, 50 aged between 10 and 14, and the number of students 15 years and older were hidden.
This is because the number was fewer than five and would protect the identity of the students.
In 2016, there were 64 stand downs for a student on student assaults.
The figures showed the total number of stand-downs not the number of students stood down.
The Ministry of Education stated stand-downs were not measures of student behaviour but measures of a school's reaction to behaviour.
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Ministry of Education Sector Enablement and Support deputy secretary Katrina Casey acknowledged there were several reasons a student could be stood-down or suspended, including physical assault.
The gravity of the assault was not documented and the ministry's data did not include whether the incident was reported to police or if they investigated, she said.
Rotorua Intermediate principal Garry de Thierry said more time and resources were needed to help embed values and response strategies.
"The volatility and quickness for students to move into that phase of [using violence to try] resolve something," was noticeably on the rise, he said.
He said this was a reflection on society and the situations students were exposed to in the 18 hours a day they were not at school.
"It's survival instincts, it's unfortunate but it's a reality at the moment."
"Schools need to have more time. It's no good if we're just focusing on the academic development of the student and that student is violent and a menace in society," he said.
"Having the stand-downs shows [students] you can't just explode," he said.
Kaitao Intermediate principal Phil Palfrey said standing a student down was not a decision made lightly but the school had a zero-tolerance for violence.
At least three people were involved in the decision to stand a student down and several things needed to be taken into account, Palfrey said.
"What has this person done in the past, is this a one-off, is this person just being violent because they didn't have lunch that day . . . or is this person who just enjoys hitting and hurting other people?"
He said when children were violent, there was "absolutely no doubt" it was an example of what they saw at home.
"If it does continue to rise, society has to look at what's acceptable behaviour," he said.
The school's deputy principal, Debbie Holmes, said assaults in the school were usually amounted to hitting and was not a "severe beating".
Western Heights Primary School principal Brent Griffin said the aggression and violence in society was something many young people saw regularly.
"We are involved in an aggressive society and our kids are seeing this, particularly in the lower socio-economic areas," he said.
He said violence was sometimes encouraged by family members with seemingly good intent - "but there's a difference between standing up for yourself and being violent and aggressive".
To change this, philosophy's in schools needed to be changed to ensure the environment in schools was a place students would feel comfortable and safe, with knock-on effects on behaviour.
Lakes Psychology clinical psychologist Debbie Heron said some children could not articulate their emotions and sometimes communicated these through their behaviours.
Heron said there were multiple layers as to why a young person would act out which could be related to impulse control, exposure to violence, anxiety, high-stress situations and learning difficulties.
"There is not ever just one reason a child would act out aggressively . . . it's usually something more underlying.
Combating this would involve working systemically with the child who acted out, she said, looking at the family and home-life as well as the individual needs of the child.
It was important to make sure the child's physical, emotional and spiritual needs were met.
Rotorua police area prevention manager Inspector Brendon Keenan said incidents that happened during school time or on school premises might be dealt with internally.
But all students had the right to feel safe and secure within the school environment.
''We would encourage anyone who feels they have been assaulted to contact police.''