By Stehanie Arthur-Worsop

Suspensions for physical assaults on other students is the highest it has been since 2009, with local principals saying easily accessible violent content is partly to blame.

New figures, released by the Ministry of Education, show there were 20 suspensions for physical assaults on other students in Rotorua last year.

There were 16 the year before and seven in 2014.

The last time the figure was above 20 was in 2009 when there were 22 suspensions for physical assaults on students.

Other behavioural reasons for suspensions in 2016 included drugs, which resulted in 25 suspensions and verbal assaults on staff, which resulted in nine suspensions.

In total there were 88 suspensions, an increase from 73 in 2015, though the figures show a general decline in this use of formal punishment since 2000.

Kaitao Intermediate School principal Phil Palfrey said violence in schools was a societal issue.

“Programmes showing mixed martial arts where people are bashing each other, even when they’re on the ground, is not going to do any good for an impressionable young person.

“Schools are finding more creative ways to deal with behavioural issues, but we have to take a hard line when it comes to violence.

“Most students are well behaved and have a strong sense of respect but some learn from home that they don’t have to respect anyone. When that’s the case schools are the next target.”

John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said an increasing number of physical assaults on students and teachers continued to be a concern in the sector.

“We don’t see it at John Paul College but there is a general trend of students becoming less respectful of authority – teachers and police.

“The stuff they are watching on TV or seeing online is often full of violence. Some students also come from homes where violence is a normalised means of dealing with their issues.

“Schools do use restorative justice and anger management programmes to control these situations but this is not our primary job.”

Rotorua Intermediate School principal Garry de Thierry said schools reflected society and for some students, violence and drama was normal.

“While it’s not the sole contributor, the aggression depicted through music videos, on TV and in computer games is rife.

“I really feel for students growing up in this day and age. With most families having both parents working there doesn’t seem to be the same amount of time at home to sit down and talk about issues.

“Children will get to a frustration point where they lash out. We need skilled people to talk through those feelings so it doesn’t keep happening.”

Rotorua Principals’ Association president and Rotokawa Primary School principal Briar Stewart said the overall decline could be attributed in part to the “significant amount of research and learning done around building culturally responsive learning environments”.

“This means the school interactions and work alongside the students, the whanau and the community has changed significantly. There is always more to be done and more to learn.

“Te Kotahitanga research and the implementation of Positive Behaviour for Learning in 2009 have impacted positively for both students and school communities.

“In Rotorua we are very fortunate with our local iwi and the input they have in our schools and communities. Our iwi are always keen to engage, support and help schools with engaging young people in meaningful learning, as we know there remains an over representation of young rangatahi in the national suspension data.”

She said there was a concern around the level of physical assaults on other students.

“The speed at which some students react in situations with physical assault is a concern for all of us in the community. The ability to think before causing harm is learning some children need support with from a young age.

“Positive Behaviour for Learning is all about teaching such decision making, teaching other options and building children of good character in all of our schools.

“Schools can never do this alone. As a community we all need to take responsibility to shape the kind of society we live in proactively.”

Ministry of Education deputy secretary of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said in a written statement to the Rotorua Daily Post schools should contact the ministry if they thought they were not getting enough support.

“If they have got cases that they think that we have not provided support for, then we need to talk to them about that. And often we’ll find it isn’t so much about providing more support, it might be us working in partnership with other services.”

She said about $95 million was spent on behaviour help nationally last year, including children getting help from the Severe Behaviour Service and from specialist teachers.

The Severe Behaviour Service received 2500 referrals last year, five per cent more than the previous year.

“Physical assault is the sharp end of behavioural problems schools have to deal with. The Government invested $69 million in this year’s Budget to support children most at risk of long-term dysfunction.

Ms Casey said it was important to note the approach to recording this information meant the degree of severity was not captured.

“Schools themselves decide how they categorise misbehaviour. Physical assaults on staff can be either intentional harm or unintentional harm, such as the student being unable to manage their emotions. Incidents can range from throwing a ball at a teacher, to kicking and biting them.”

Source: NZ Herald

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