Seven in 10 suspended kindergarten kids have a disability, new figures show
In high school, the most affected group was stage 4 – years 7 and 8 – with an annual average of 24,169 suspensions in the same period.
But at secondary school, the proportion of suspensions involving students with a disability was lower. In stage five (years 9 and 10), it was about 48 per cent, and in stage six (years 11 and 12) it was around 36 per cent.
Disability advocacy groups say young kids are being sent home for behaviour they cannot control, but teacher groups say they are being faced with increasingly extreme behaviour that is putting staff and other students at risk.
Experts say behaviour issues are intensifying because students that would once have been in so-called support units are now in mainstream classrooms, but schools have not updated their classroom management strategies or their teacher training.
The NSW Department of Education has said it was concerned about the high number of suspensions among students with a disability, and launched a review of its discipline strategy and suspension policy a year ago.
Louise Kuchel, a spokeswoman for Parents for ADHD Advocacy Australia, said the review seemed to be making little progress, even before the COVID-19 outbreak.
“These issues were present long before the global COVID pandemic, and they will return in spades when school returns,” she said. “Children with disabilities like ADHD suffer in NSW schools and now the department’s own statistics even report that.”
A department spokeswoman said, “it is expected that further information on the policy and strategy will be available in the middle of 2020”.
David Roy, a disability advocate and education academic at Newcastle University, called for an independent rather than internal inquiry.
“Suspending children with a disability at these numbers suggests that the suspension is because of the disability rather than other factors,” he said.
State opposition education spokeswoman Prue Car said the government had been slow to act on a 2017 ombudsman’s inquiry into the issue. “The government has been too slow to act on the recommendations of the ombudsman’s inquiry, and parents of these children have every right to ask why this is the case,” she said.
The NSW Department of Education spokeswoman said the shared goal of new behaviour and disability strategies was to help teachers support students with additional needs.
An independent evidence review was being conducted by the Telethon Kids Institute, and the new strategy would include resources for teachers and training for specialist education staff.
Before suspensions were imposed, reasonable adjustments had to be provided to support students with a disability, in accordance with discrimination acts, she said.
Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald