Page 4139 - Week 11 - Thursday, 17 Sept 2009

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a period of up to 20 days. These reforms give principals more authority to manage the suspension process and reflect what the community wants.

Bullying, harassment and violence is unacceptable behaviour in our schools. It is also unacceptable behaviour in our communities. As I have said before, bullying is a community issue. When bullying stops in the wider community, we will see it stop in schools. This reform today has been made as a result of direct representations from the Canberra community. The government believe that we must ensure that schools are safe learning environments. In addition to giving principals more authority, we are implementing strategies to improve a student’s successful transition back to school or into alternative education programs and settings.

The authority to suspend, exclude or transfer a student enrolled in an ACT public school rests with the Chief Executive of the Department of Education and Training. Currently, the chief executive can delegate his authority to suspend a student for up to five days to the principal of the school. Likewise, the authority to suspend or exclude students in a Catholic systemic school rests with the Director of the Catholic Education Office. Again, the director can delegate the authority to principals to suspend for up to five days. The authority to suspend students in independent schools rests with the principal of that independent school. As I said, they have the discretion to suspend for up to 20 days. In comparison to all other states and territories, principals in ACT public schools have delegated authority to suspend for the shortest time period. For example, principals in New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory, Victoria and South Australia have delegated authority to suspend for up to 20 days.

These reforms are about giving principals the appropriate authority to make decisions that reflect community standards and expectations. Suspension is, indeed, a serious sanction and is one of the range of strategies to address serious misbehaviour in schools. A number of policies and programs guide the way schools deal with incidents of misbehaviour. Many of these strategies aim to prevent such behaviour from occurring in the first place. In considering this proposal it, is important we have a clear understanding of why it may be necessary to suspend a student. We all know that most schools experience situations from time to time where it is necessary to suspend a student.

First and foremost, as far as our philosophy and practices go in the ACT, suspension is not just about punishment. The purposes for which a student might be suspended are threefold. Firstly, it is to restore immediate safety to the school environment and to other students and staff in the school or classroom. The second is to allow time for the school to review a particular incident, assess their response and to identify and put in place strategies to support the suspended student and their family. The third is to send a clear message to the school community about the significance of the behaviour and to send a message to the student that behaviour which is violent or inappropriate has consequences.

When a serious incident occurs in a school, the way the school responds sends a strong message to the community. When a student is suspended, the message very clearly is that antisocial behaviour is not tolerated in the school and the school takes

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