The Big Question: Do repeat suspensions improve behaviour?

Each week, we speak to the people who count, people like you, and post their opinions on the big issues in the education world.  Read it and comment to make it a lively and insightful debate.

This week’s question: Do repeat suspensions lead to improved behaviour?

Pupil suspensions have risen sharply while permanent exclusions have dropped, according to new  figures.

A parliamentary written answer to the Conservatives, shows numbers of children from primary, secondary and special schools suspended 10 times in a year  more than doubled in the four years to 2007.  Additionally, there has been a 50% increase in the number of pupils given five or more suspensions in a year from 9,090 to 14,850 over this time span.

Conversely, the number of permanent exclusions over the same period has decreased from 9,880 to 8,680

The Government believes that short, sharp shocks through fixed-term exclusions help to deal with low level disruption and expects schools to follow this approach.  However, some headteachers feel that a revolving door policy does not improve behaviour.

Do repeat suspensions lead to improved behaviour?

Here are some thoughts from the education community:

“Having spent 11 years as a head using fixed-term and permanent exclusions, I can assure the government that there is no ‘shock’ - sharp or otherwise - involved for those whose behaviour is a continuing problem in schools.  The only pupils who might in any way feel ‘shocked’ by a fixed-term exclusion are those for whom an excludable incident is an aberration on their part.

“Exclusion is, in fact, worthwhile only in that it gives teachers and other pupils - the people who suffer most from the persistently badly behaved - a break.  It doesn’t reform the offenders and, since the government put the onus on schools to provide education for those excluded for more than five days, is now more trouble than it’s worth. 

“The present government has spent 11 years searching desperately for its holy grail of behaviour management. I’ve got news for them:  there’s no magic wand that can cure the causes, which are poor parenting , an overly-prescribed curriculum and relentless testing.  All of this makes some children detest education from when they first start school at the age of five years. We have little control over the former, but we can at least begin to tackle the latter.”
Helen Freeborn, retired secondary school headteacher, now a writer and living in Greece

“Exclusions, suspensions, sin bins, education welfare officers, it’s all aimed at dealing with a problem that basically schools cannot handle; poor behaviour.  Get to the root of the problem, fix it and we’ll have no need for any of it.

“More family support, parenting classes, and financial help for struggling families will go a long way to prevent long-term problems.  Schools are not welfare organisations, although the government would like them to be.”
Lena Dhillon, parent to Nina aged nine years, and Simeon aged 15 years.

“We now have a higher number of badly behaved disruptive and disaffected pupils in school than ever before, which puts others at risk.

“Suspension can be successful if applied properly with family support and clear consequences.  However, inclusion takes priority over education and wellbeing of children and staff.

“Many children who are suspended are from families who see exclusions as an opportunity for further absence from school to do things like go to Blackpool for a jolly holiday.

“Also, when local authorities overturn exclusions it can often make things worse.  There was one incident in my school when a violent child was allowed back into school.  He went on to physically attack a member of staff.

“Short term suspensions are a short term measure, not a long-term solution.  If a child needs to be repeatedly suspended surely this shows that there is an issue that needs to be dealt with rather than give more time off school.”
Lisa Smith, secondary school teacher