Greens Education spokesperson Sue Pennicuik, said today that the report by the Victorian Ombudsman into expulsions in Government schools has again highlighted the risks of allowing high levels of autonomy in government schools in Victoria without adequate oversight or support from the Department of Education and Training (DET).
"There were 278 students formally expelled in 2016 yet the department states that around 6,800 students per year disengage from government education between years 9 and 12. It can only be concluded that somewhere between these two figures is an indicative number for informal expulsions. That there are so few children formally expelled must also be a testament to the many dedicated teachers and principals who deal with challenging behaviour by children daily, the Ombudsman said.
“I find it incredible that potentially thousands of students are being ‘informally’ expelled from government schools, but DET does not seem to know how many or what has happened to them as its data is ‘haphazard, incomplete and insufficient to make informed policy decisions with respect to expulsions, Ms Pennicuik said.
“As occurred with the lack of proper financial oversight by DET of the spending of taxpayers’ money by individual ‘banker’ schools – highlighted in the IBAC report: ‘Operation Ord’, the lack of oversight by DET means it has no accurate picture of the number of students who are falling through the cracks” Ms Pennicuik said. “It is concerning that the Ombudsman found that given the autonomy of schools in this area, the department is struggling to address the issues, Ms Pennicuik said.
"The Ombudsman found that in the majority of cases, there was no effective plan to find the student a new school, when we are seeing more young people in the youth justice system, Ms Pennicuik said.
Sixty-one of the students expelled in 2016 were out of school for between three and twelve months following their expulsion and some 60 per cent of those in the youth justice system had previously been suspended or expelled from school, and over 90 per cent of adults in our prisons did not complete secondary school. The link between educational disadvantage and incarceration is not new, but remains compelling, the Ombudsman found.
The Ombudsman also found there is no doubt that students from vulnerable groups are over-represented in the numbers of those expelled – formally and informally. There is a lack of early intervention for Aboriginal students - that while help was available it was often brought in too late and for students with disabilities, instead of providing extra assistance, supplementary funding is used to justify limiting a child’s attendance at school. The influence of trauma – such as exposure to family violence – was also powerfully present in many cases.
The Ombudsman recommended that while expulsion remains an option of last resort, no child should ever be expelled from the state’s education system as a whole.
“Some children can present problems for a school, its staff and for other children, whose learning may be affected by disruptive behaviour. This is a difficult balancing act which many schools have to manage daily. However, it is the role of the government and the Department to do much better in supporting schools and students than what this report has shown has been happening, Ms Pennicuik said.
“While it is good to see that the Minister has agreed to tighten the Ministerial guidelines as recommended by the Ombudsman’s report and DET has agreed to improve its data collection and follow up of the welfare of expelled students, it is concerning that this wasn’t already happening”, Ms Pennicuik said. “Both the government and DET have a lot of work to do to address the problems highlighted in this report.”