Nev Madsen

Fears for student rights in education bill reforms

THE rights of students and the long-term effects expulsion can have on their lives were the major concerns raised during a public hearing on Friday examining the Education (Strengthening Discipline in State Schools) Amendment Bill 2013.

The bill will grant principals stronger powers for managing discipline in schools, widen the grounds for expulsion, makes provision for community service and Saturday detention and allows for students who have been charged with a criminal offence to be excluded before their case is heard by the courts.

But Queensland advocacy and community groups are afraid that changes to the bill will unnecessarily disadvantage students who have become disengaged with the education system.

There was particular concern from those representing the rights of students with learning disabilities who believe that challenging students will be suspended more frequently and for greater lengths of time instead of schools adopting more effective behaviour management plans.

"Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for students with disabilities to be suspended for minor offences and the amendments to the bill allow for this practice to escalate," said Michelle O'Flynn of Queensland Advocacy Incorporated.

"The increase of short-term suspensions from five days to 10 days is shortsighted, especially since the research shows that positive behaviour approaches work much better than suspension.

"The amendments will also place a burden on working parents and there is no chance for supporters of the student to argue against the exclusion.

"Then there is the cost of appealing the suspension which is about $802 without factoring in what you would have to pay lawyers or representatives."

Reports show that the number of suspensions in 2012 were up 27% on the previous year with Deception Bay State High School issuing the highest number with 580.

Discipline audits which are being conducted around Queensland schools are yet to be completed and it is puzzling that legislation is being introduced when the information from those examinations are not to hand.

Professor Peter Renshaw, head of the School of Education at the University of Queensland told the hearing that it was important to look at the reasons behind the high number of suspensions and to examine the effectiveness of student exclusions.

"Studies show that classrooms in Queensland are generally supportive environments and it the lack of intellectual engagement between the curriculum and its relation to everyday life that is the problem," Prof Renshaw said .

"Our concern is that there is a possibility that suspensions will increase and what we know for a fact is that exclusions have an extremely negative academic, social and emotional impact. That can result in physical violence and drug use and the further marginalisation of low socio-economic groups."

The amendments to the bill, it seems, also contravenes the rights of children as set out by the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, of which Australia is a signatory, because there was no consultation about the changes with children or their representatives.

There is also a question of cost and the impact things like Saturday detention will have on students in rural and remote areas who rely on a bus service to get to school while the Queensland Teachers Union voiced their displeasure with the fact it was unlikely educators would be compensated for Saturday work.

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