A principal says that by expelling students, schools are not only disrupting their education but setting them up for failure later in life.
Josie Howie, principal of The Pavilion School, located in Victoria, made the comments following recent figures showing that last year, 26 Victorian students were expelled from primary school and 172 from high school.
The spike in expulsions was the biggest in three years, alarming groups like Parents Victoria and principals like Howie, whose school was set up to look after children who have been disengaged or excluded from mainstream education.
She told the ABC that the only reason her school had to exist was because the mainstream system was not resourced to support children with behavioural issues – who are often the most vulnerable students as well.
“From the two examples I can think of where students were expelled from primary school, one has died in a police pursuit and the other is incarcerated,” Howie said.
She added that expulsion disproportionately affected the most vulnerable students in the school community.
“It absolutely disrupts the student's education ... then they're plonked into another school and they go there with a big target on their head saying, ‘problem kid’,” she said.
Howie suggested Australia’s education system adopt a policy similar to the one practiced in Finland, where primary school student cannot be expelled.
“In countries like Finland they wouldn't consider giving up on a child,” she said.
Victoria's Education Department considers expulsion a last resort and has mandated an opportunity for the student to be heard by the principal before a final decision is made.
The department's expulsion guidelines state that "a student's behaviour must also be of such magnitude that expulsion is the only available mechanism".
Parents Victoria, a state-wide organisation representing parents of students in government schools, said schools should focus on the causes for non-compliance in primary school students and provide greater access to psychologists and support services.
The group’s executive officer, Gail McHardy, told the ABC that a student's expulsion was often connected with traumatic experiences for the student, teachers and families involved.
“The cost impacts on the health and wellbeing on children, families and educators is a real issue for the Government,” McHardy said.
“The reality is some students are non-compliant and so how do schools manage that best?”