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Monday, September 06 2021

Student Discipline - What About Welfare?

NSW Department of Education is currently reviewing its Welfare and Discipline Policy and the proposed change reflect the Department’s preoccupation with providing flattering statistics rather than a focus on the students who need support.  The proposed policies are designed to reduce the statistics of suspensions etc. without providing schools with any functional alternative consequence to help those students whose behaviour interferes with their learning, their cohort’s learning and the teacher’s ability to present their planned lesson.


This trend of weakening the teacher’s and school’s ability to deliver effective interventions that address a student’s dysfunctional behaviour has persisted for years.  I believe this is in response to the vocal protests of the parents of these children and the condescending attitude of academics who propose ‘alternative’ interventions.  The latter make the assumption that these kids can be ‘controlled’ and more naively the resources required to implement the programs they recommend are provided.  It is this failure of the Department to provide the adequate resources for schools to actually deliver effective welfare interventions that perpetuates the persistent problems severe behaviours present.  It is shameful, but not unexpected that the department ignores or even acknowledges their dereliction of responsibility but continues to place the accountability on to schools!  


This essay examines the role of discipline and welfare, with particular emphasis on the extreme end of the dysfunctional, behaviour scale.  Apart from those few, unfortunate children who suffer from real psychotic illness, the vast majority of students that fall in this category do so because of their aberrant, early childhood development (see Newsletters - The Impact of Neglect – 12 September 2017 and The Characteristics of the Abused Child – 26 September 2017).   Estimates of the numbers of these children with severe, dysfunctional behaviour range from between 3% to 11 % (however, this figure varies according to the socio-economic profile of the school). For most of the school population it only requires minimal use of discipline and welfare but even so some kids are a bit naughtier than others.  It should be no surprise that teenagers in particular do get into a bit of trouble.  It really is part of their responsibility to test boundaries to gain independence but most of these are easily dealt with.  It is at the last two levels where the strength of a school’s program is tested.  The ideal Discipline and Welfare Policy can be summarised in the diagram below.




Integrated Discipline and Welfare Program



It has to be acknowledged that the use of time out is the only practical consequence for disruptive and damaging behaviours and it is this cohort that will be subjected to the more severe form of time out, suspension.   Suspensions are never imposed easily, in some research I conducted it takes on average two hours of the school executive’s time to make use of this action; of course in some cases the amount of time is much more and this comes from the school’s existing budget of personnel.  Over the last twenty years or more there has been a progressive erosion about the application of all forms of time out.   

I have written extensively about the application of Time Out, (see Newsletter - Time Out– 17 July 2017) and I have included a full chapter from my book Insights into the Modern Classroom devoted to that subject (see Resources page - Frew Consultants Group).  These sources outline the practice of using this form of consequence for dysfunctional behaviour.  I am not going to discuss this here except to point out that Time Out is the only discipline tool schools have to deal with these extreme kids and not to use it discounts the value it affords to the school and more importantly the offending student.


Let’s take the example of a student with severe, antisocial behaviours that manifests as physical and/or psychological violence to their class mates or the staff.  No matter how the Department tries to hide the existence of these kids the statistics confirm their existence and most public schools experience this type of behaviour on an all too regular basis. 


As mentioned above, in some areas the numbers are much higher than others.  In the research I cited previously the number of long-term suspensions in a district in Western NSW was 5.8 per 100 children, that is for a school with say 500 students there would have been 29 long-term suspensions while in another district in North Sydney had 0.5 long-term suspensions per 100 students which translated into 2.5 long-term suspensions.  The workload the behavioural problems generated varies immensely yet the department demands the same overall compliance for both districts.  In the latest expulsion statistics I could get (2016) over three hundred students were expelled from the system, this would only occur after multiple suspensions.


We have to accept a couple of facts:

  1. That the behaviour of these most damaged kids can not function in regular school until they have learned to socialise in a manner that allows them to join in and to be accepted by their class mates and the school
  2. School staff neither has the training nor the time to implement any effective interventions
  3. School counsellors would need specialist training, particularly in dealing with early childhood trauma however, even with such training they would not have the time

The only way to effectively address the needs of these children is in specialist settings.


I can already hear the outcry from those who resist such exclusion and I would happily support their position if schools were provided with the appropriate number of extra staff suitably trained in mental health issues along with the capital resources needed to accommodate these.  However, without such support forcing these students to remain at a school exacerbates the suffering for the student and the schools.  As this is the situation across NSW schools, and I expect the rest of Australia the reality is that the current conditions are abusive for the student and the rest of the school community and the Department is responsible for this abuse.


There is no disputing the fact that dysfunctional behaviour continues to be the major impediment to learning outcomes in public schools.  The Department continues to ignore this fact and places it’s faith in ‘compulsory’ training in being a ‘quality teacher’ or more recently a ‘leader’, neither will have any impact on the problems caused by these most difficult kids yet somehow the leadership feel they are making a difference.


A less charitable person than myself would point to the fact that parents have identified the problem caused by these students and have migrated their kids to the private system where these students are either never enrolled or they are ‘expelled’ at the first sign of trouble.  The result is we are left with two different education systems and no prizes for identifying the system available for those in the low, socio-economic communities. 


In no way do we blame the students who display these severe behaviours, the whole approach of our service is to support these kids who deserve our compassion.  It is outrageous that the government’s response, through the department is to continue to ignore the problem while progressively increasing public funding to private schools.  The result is a social residualisation of our comprehensive public schools and a dislocation of our community!

Posted by: AT 08:05 pm   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  Email
John, the residualisation of state education has long been a concern of mine and many of my colleagues. A thoughtful piece. Thanks.
Posted by Wayne Eade on 08/09/2021 - 11:18 AM

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John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance

ABN 64 372 518 772


The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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