...becouse suspension dosent teatch you anything: What students with challenging behaviours say about school suspension

Year: 2012

Author: Michail, Samia, Beauchamp, Toni

Type of paper: Refereed paper


The literature on school suspension contains negligible discussion from the perspective of the student. This paper makes a contribution to that missing standpoint. It presents the findings of a small ethnographic study with students in middle childhood who have been suspended from school. Student participants live in a Local Government Area in NSW that, in 2006, was in the third highest decile of NSW LGAs ranked by the risk of social exclusion for children aged 0-15 years. Their responses highlight the complex nature of the problems to which suspension is a disciplinary response and the vast array of negative emotions that follow. For the overwhelming majority of study participants, being suspended did not lead to any meaningful behavioural change. Students instead identified suspension as a universal process of exclusion, spawning pathways to educational disengagement and risks of marginalisation. In their reflections, students raised issues around; the cyclic dynamic of respect; the role of student voice; procedural fairness in decision making and participation in setting behaviour standards in the school context. The paper presents the alternative strategies that students suggested for managing their behaviour which point to the critical impact of child-adult relations on their wellbeing in the learning environment. Positive student-teacher relationships were viewed as indispensable. Student perspectives from this study support the use of individualised responses to challenging behaviour that are tailored to the ecology of the child. However, in this paper we reject constructing young people as 'youth at risk', which requires political, ethical and moral judgements (Cieslik & Pollock 2002 cited in te Riele 2007) and where something about young people needs change. Rather, we suggest that something about educational provision needs to change to work with the child's context. We further argue that how we maintain our interaction with students in personal, positive ways will determine whether school responses will compound existing vulnerabilities for students or create opportunities for new thinking on educational engagement.