Calls for more school councillors, fewer suspensions

Sharryn Brownlee

Central Coast Council of P&Cs President, Sharryn Brownlee, is calling for more school counsellors and resources to support vulnerable children, as part of an effort to do away with school suspensions.

Brownlee has applauded suggested changes to the Department of Education’s Student Behaviour Strategy, which would see periods of suspension reduced from 20 days to up to five days for children in Kindergarten-Year 2 and up to 10 days form students in Years 3-12.

But the real solution, she says, is in providing more support to schools so that suspensions can be done away with completely.

“School suspensions will one day, be seen by the community, quite rightly, in the same way we see corporal punishment now – damaging to children,” Brownlee said.

“More needs to be done to help some children to manage their behaviour.

“Learning how to manage socially and learning restitution is also needed.”

Brownlee said gaps in policy and inconsistent follow up were problematic.

“Individuals schools should not be making decisions without a strong policy,” she said.

“The risks are too high –  we know that local decisions may vary but always the child’s well-being must be at the heart of decision-making.

“If a new school setting is what is needed, places must be available.

“At the moment sadly, there are long waiting lists.

“More specialised classes, more school counsellors and behavioural schools are needed, not more suspensions.

Brownlee said there were many examples of good principals here on the Central Coast intervening and saving children from being suspended, and then working with their families and external agencies to ensure the child is supported so their education continues.

“Every child has the right to a safe learning environment and a quality education.

“It is critical to no longer have those long suspensions – we would like to see them abolished altogether.”

The NSW Teachers Federation said shorter periods of suspension required prior consultation with the Federation and the provision of early intervention programs, additional qualified specialist teachers, including school counsellors and support for parents and carers.

It has also called on the Education Department to commit additional funding, resources and support to schools to manage behaviour and engage in genuine consultation with stakeholders.

Brownlee seconded those calls.

“Mainstream teachers often aren’t equipped to cope with specialised behaviours,” she said.

“We value and recognise the stress placed on teachers.

“But the answer isn’t suspension – sending children home and expecting them to remain in education is unrealistic.

“It’s good to have the Minister looking at this, but what we need is more schools aimed at behavioural issues on the Coast.

“We have high numbers of children in the region with special learning needs and educational challenges.”

Terry Collins