Student Suspensions: The Influence on Students and Their Parents

By Partington, Gary | Australian Journal of Education, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Student Suspensions: The Influence on Students and Their Parents


Partington, Gary, Australian Journal of Education


In this study, students in Years 8-10 who were suspended from school were interviewed during their suspension to obtain their views on the validity, efficacy and consequences of suspension as a strategy in behaviour management. Their parents were interviewed for their views on the effect of the suspension on the family and on the student. Periods of suspension were from two to ten days, and were supposed to be spent in the care of the parents. The findings indicate mixed consequences of suspension depending upon the context in which it occurs and the characteristics of the student. The study suggests that student responses reflect the extent to which they accept the authority of the school, with more resistant students being less submissive and coming from families where the school is viewed negatively. Alternative strategies to suspension might be more effective for the target students as suspension did little to improve behaviour or performance.

Introduction

Student suspensions from school for limited periods are regarded as a penultimate solution to the management of student behaviour in schools, with the final step being exclusion from school altogether. Accompanying the abolition of corporal punishment in the 1980s in most Australian state schools, alternative strategies for managing disruptive students were sought. Generally suspensions followed by exclusion were implemented. According to the Education Department of Western Australia, suspension serves multiple purposes, including removal from the school environment, reduced opportunities for reinforcement of behaviour, and a period of respite between the incident and resolution. In addition, it provides an opportunity for the student, teachers and parents to reflect on the incident and its behaviour and allows `a considered, positive resolution and re-entry plan' (Education Department of Western Australia, 2001).

The effectiveness of suspensions in accomplishing these goals, however, has been under pressure in recent years (Costenbader & Markson, 1998; House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, 1996; Hyman & Perone, 1998). The use of suspensions, exclusions and expulsions to `move on' difficult students was noted by the House of Representatives Committee. In Western Australia, the annual increase in the number of suspensions suggests that exclusions have become a device for ridding schools of undesirable students quickly, instead of a means of solving problems within the school. Only about 4 per cent of students were suspended in 1999 and, of these, two-thirds were suspended only once. The figure glosses over the concentration of suspensions in the early years of secondary school, however: male students in Years 8 to 10 would form the bulk of those suspended and the proportion would be far higher in this group.

Statistics of the use of suspensions for student control in Western Australia showed an upward trend in suspensions from just over 2500 in 1993 to over 17 000 suspensions involving over 9000 students by 1999 (Education Department of Western Australia, 2000). The steady annual growth has continued since suspension was identified as a principal strategy when the Managing Student Behaviour policy was introduced in the mid-1980s. Recent changes to the policy (Education Department of Western Australia, 1998, 2001) appear to have maintained the trend.

The increased incidence of suspensions does not reflect an increase in the total number of students in schools. It may, however, point to the possible disaffection from school of a significant proportion of students who see no future for themselves at school. A breakdown of statistics by school district (Education Department of Western Australia, 1999) revealed that districts with higher proportions of low socioeconomic and indigenous students are more likely to experience higher rates of suspension than other districts. An analysis by school was not available but, when the author was seeking schools to participate in the study, it was clear that some schools employed suspension as a control device much more than others--even schools close both geographically and in student social background. …

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