A disproportionate number of children expelled from Victorian Government schools have a disability, are in out of home care, or identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, according to the Victorian Ombudsman.
Tabling an Investigation into Victorian government school expulsions in Parliament, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said children as young as five and six are being excluded from government schools in a process riddled with gaps that lacks concrete data.
The report found significant reform is required to measure exactly how many children are excluded from government schools each year, and to ensure no child is ever excluded entirely from the Victorian education system.
“A key purpose of the investigation was to find out whether expulsions complied with the Ministerial Order – which includes ensuring the student is provided with other educational and development opportunities,” Ms Glass said.
“What we found was a confused and incomplete picture. There were so many gaps in the expulsion reports it was not possible to answer the questions with any certainty. But we can say that some two-thirds of expulsions fail to comply on at least one count, with the lack of information suggesting that this number may well be considerably higher.”
Education Department figures state that 278 children were expelled from the Victorian Government school system in 2016.
“The official number is likely to be only a fraction of the number of children informally expelled, on whom no data is kept. Somewhere between hundreds and thousands of children each year disengage from formal education at least in part as a result of pressure from schools. We simply do not know where they end up,” Ms Glass said.
“But we do know that some 60 per cent of those in the youth justice system had previously been suspended or expelled from school, and over 90 per cent of adults in our prisons did not complete secondary school. The link between educational disadvantage and incarceration is not new, but remains compelling.”
A previous Ombudsman investigation in 2015 on the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners identified educational disadvantage starting in childhood as a key factor leading to imprisonment as an adult.
Ms Glass called for additional resources for principals facing the difficult balancing act of supporting children with challenging behaviours while also providing a safe environment for work and study.
The investigation – which involved outreach with parent and community groups across the state – identified that many children expelled from schools display behaviour stemming from disruption and disadvantage in their lives and called for major investment in the school system to help such children.
“A welcome start would be recognising that while expulsion remains an option of last resort, no child should ever be expelled from the state’s education system as a whole. A commitment to supporting early intervention is also vital. The challenging behaviour of children is frequently rooted in trauma, disability or mental health. The investment not made in supporting schools to deal with this behaviour will almost inevitably require a vastly greater investment later, elsewhere, to deal with their challenging behaviour as adults,” said Ms. Glass.
The key recommendations from the report are:
- [That the Minister for Education] Amend Ministerial Order 625 to ensure that a principal cannot expel a student aged eight years old or less from any government school without the approval of the Secretary or her delegate and consider any additional changes to the Order necessary to give effect to the recommendations that follow.
- [That the Department of Education] Embed the principle and expectation in policy or guidance that no student of compulsory school age will be excluded from the government school system (even if expelled from an individual government school).
The investigation did not examine expulsions from private schools, as the Victorian Ombudsman does not have jurisdiction in the area.
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