State Hides School Discipline Crisis
by Malcolm Cole (The Courier-Mail 1/3/2000)
Cited in 'Uncontrolled Children' by P Atkinson

THE State Government has dismantled a central database on state school suspensions and expulsions after it revealed annual increases of more than 20% over the past two years. Figures obtained under Freedom of Information showed 10,386 students were suspended or expelled from state schools in the first semester of 1999, compared with 8395 the previous year. But statistics were not available for the second semester after Education Queensland shut down the central database in the middle of the year.

Education Minister Dean Wells denied the department had stopped collecting suspension and expulsion figures to avoid damaging media publicity over disciplinary issues in state schools. But Opposition education spokesman Bob Quinn, who established the central database when he was the minister, said the Government now had no information about behaviour management.

"Education Queensland spends almost $20 million a year on behaviour management strategies involving more than 200 specialist support staff and alternative programmes for problem students," Mr Quinn said. "Without this database, it's flying blind."

Mr Wells said the information would be kept at the 36 district offices so the problem could be addressed "at the district level". The Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens said the data should be collected centrally and made available.

"I don't think that should be secretive," council president Chris Jones said. "As long as names or schools weren't used then maybe it would give the Government some data on what areas they should be focusing their programmes on."

The Courier-Mail was refused information on suspensions and expulsions in December and was forced to use Freedom of Information Laws to obtain access to the documents. Last Monday, when Education Queensland decided to grant access to the documents, the Government released the information to all media outlets.

Mr Wells's spokeswoman said the Information had been released "because the Minister believes it should be in the public domain".

The information obtained by The Courier-Mail showed 8326 boys were suspended or expelled from state primary and high schools in the first half of 1999, compared with just 2040 girls. The most common reason for student disciplinary action was disobedience, which accounted for 3209 students being removed from classes.

Bullying and physical behaviour accounted for 2622 suspensions or expulsions, while 1546 students were outed for verbal abuse and 1327 were suspended or expelled for drug use.

Mr Wells said that the 23% rise in suspensions and expulsions, following a 22% increase the previous year, had occurred because schools now were more aware of behavioural issues.

"It's a significant increase, even when you take into account the 2% population increase in schools," he said. "But it is exactly what you would expect in the light of the increased resources for behaviour management that have been made available in schools, and in the light of the increased emphasis on anti-bullying policies."