Schools investigated over spike in expulsions

The Victorian watchdog will investigate whether schools are secretly expelling students after figures from the state’s Education Department show the number of students being expelled having risen over 25% in the past year.

The ombudsman's office had received complaints that families experience difficulties when they attempt to appeal against expulsions, as well as finding an alternative school for a child after they are expelled.

On Thursday afternoon, the Victorian Ombudsman said it had commenced an ‘own motion’ investigation into school expulsions, which will examine:
  • Whether the department is complying with the Ministerial Order and policies regarding Government school expulsions;
  • Whether vulnerable or at-risk students are over-represented in expulsion numbers and whether the department is effectively addressing any such issues;
  • Whether the data collected by the department regarding expulsions is sufficient to inform departmental policy-making and programs;
  • Whether the department is monitoring and preventing instances of informal expulsions, which occur outside a formal expulsion process;
Gabrielle Leigh, president of the Victorian Principals Association (VPA) told The Educator that she hoped something positive came out of the probe as expulsion was “a really difficult process in all ways”.

“At times schools need more resources to work through really dangerous situations and extreme behaviours,” she said.

“It points again to the fact that all government primary schools require a welfare officer to provide support and communication to work with the schools and families when students exhibit challenging behaviours.”

Leigh said the 25% spike in expulsions over the past year “may be just a cycle”, adding the numbers were low when the total number of students government schools was taken into account.

“The numbers are low when you look at the actual number if students in government schools – particularly in primary schools,” she said.

“Principals try hard to resolve any misconduct at school level. It is only in extreme circumstances students are expelled. Overall the level of violence within our society could be growing and that is a worrying trend.” 

Concerns over lack of transparency

In May, the Youth Affairs Council for Victoria (YACVic) released a discussion paper which called for public data on the number of student suspensions or expulsions to be made available.

The report – titled: Out of sight out of mind? The exclusion of students from Victorian schools – said that suspending or expelling students was rarely an effective way to address disruptive behaviour or prevent students from becoming disengaged in school.

“Up to date, comprehensive data on suspensions and expulsions is not readily available at present,” the report said, adding that figures dating back to 2011 should be made available in order to reveal any changing trends.

“While [the Department of Education and Training] collects suspension data via their school census, we have been informed this data is not released publicly.”

The report said that even though principals record and report student expulsions, this information did not appear publicly either.

The findings also suggested the real number of suspensions and expulsions may be higher than any official figures suggest.