Behaviour support provisions in small rural schools and large urban schools

Year: 2009

Author: Fields, Barry

Type of paper: Refereed paper

The provision of resources and services to schools to support teachers and students has been an issue for small rural schools for some time. While most attention has focused on learning support, behaviour support is now seen as of equal importance. How schools support students with behaviour difficulties is central to Education Queensland’s recently revised approach to behaviour management in state schools. The mechanism by which support is provided by schools is the Responsible Behaviour Plan for Students. Through this plan schools are required to identify the type and range of supports, programs and services to students requiring targeted (10 – 15% of the school enrolment) and intensive behaviour support (2 – 5% of the school enrolment). These supports are expected to include access to a variety of government and community services.

This paper explores the challenges facing small rural schools in providing necessary behaviour support for students who exhibit serious forms of challenging behaviour. Comparisons are made between the supports provided by 10 small rural primary schools and 10 large urban primary schools for students with difficult and challenging behaviour. Differences in the type, number and variety of supports are highlighted, along with a discussion of what these differences mean for the offering of a quality education experience by small rural schools.

The viability of small schools has been the subject of policy considerations and debate for decades now (ACT Department of Education & Training, 2006; Department of Education, Training & the Arts, 2007; Phillips, 1997; Save Our Schools, 2006). At the heart of the issue is the capacity of schools with small enrolments and small staffs to provide a quality educational experience for students (Caldwell, 2005; Ofsted, 2000). This focus is expanded to include the cost effectiveness of small schools and the fiscal economies that can be achieved by closing those schools and aggregating students, staff and resources to the one site (ACT Department of Education & Training, 2006).

In Australia and elsewhere the debate has centred on schools in rural and remote locations. However, with population drift and demographic changes in urban and suburban areas, schools there with shrinking enrolments have been earmarked for closure as well. The issue is a complex one, involving schools with long histories and traditions and the associated community regard for them (Weston, 2008). More pragmatically, closures and amalgamations can have a negative impact on families forced to transport children to schools outside of their immediate area (Productivity Commission, 2003). While cost and social upheaval are major considerations and concerns in respect of decisions to close schools, educational considerations are at the forefront of arguments for and against such decisions. The pressure on small schools to justify their survival centres on the real or perceived disadvantage of small schools to deliver a comprehensive and quality curriculum, with staffing and resources sufficient to give students opportunities equal to those afforded by larger schools (Caldwell, 2005). This paper takes up this issue, looking in particular at the capacity of small schools to provide adequate levels of support to students who display serious forms of disruptive and challenging behaviour.