Media Release: Thousands of suspensions of the most vulnerable students

The most at risk children in NSW schools – who have one of three three key indicators of disadvantage, Aboriginality, disability or being in Residential Out of Home Care – are the most likely to be suspended and least likely to be in attendance data obtained by the Greens NSW shows. They are also more likely to face longer suspensions when they are suspended. 

The data also shows NSW public school suspensions numbers have risen by almost 9,000 from 65,612 suspensions in 2016 to 74,458 in 2019 with the number of long term suspensions at almost 20,000. Over 80% of these suspensions were for “misbehaviour” and “disobedience”, not fighting or criminal offences.

The suspensions policy prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race or disability, but the practice does not reflect this.  It’s clear more resources need to be provided to schools to help support these children, and a revision of the suspension policy must be finalised. 

Greens MP and Education Spokesperson David Shoebridge said:

“Schools are applying broken discipline rules that are singling out and punishing already vulnerable kids.

“I think most of us would be horrified to hear there were almost 75,000 suspensions from NSW public schools last year. Every time that happens, a child’s education suffers.

“No one is suggesting bad behaviour or rule breaking is ignored, but when only certain groups appear to face consequences for this something is seriously wrong. 

“Suspensions are not meant to be an additional punishment for students who are already facing challenges. Of course there will be times when suspensions are the only reasonable option, but that’s not 75,000 times a year.

“The answer to this isn’t about punishing teachers, it’s about additional training,  additional support and far more considered state-wide policy.

“It is deeply troubling that kids in residential care, who don’t have a family and don’t have a proper home, are also being excluded from school. For these kids it may be their only social interaction with their peers.

“If Aboriginal children’s lives matter we need to work with families and communities and keep them in school not force them out with repeated suspensions.

“We asked for this data because we have had repeated concerns raised with us from First Nations communities and parents of children with a disability. They keep saying their kids are being punished at school because of who they are, not what they did.

“The criteria used for most suspensions of “misbehaviour” and “disobedience” is very subjective and whenever there are subjective assessments we tend to see the most vulnerable members of our community being targeted.

“Students with a disability and First Nations students already face systemic disadvantage in the rest of their interactions with society, and this data shows that the education system rather than proactively addressing this, is adding to it.

“This data raises real questions about what we need to be doing in our schools to give those children a fair go,” Mr Shoebridge said.

Data analysis follows. 

Key points:

1. Aboriginal school students are 6.6 times as likely to be suspended as non-Aboriginal students. Of the 74,458 students suspended from school in 2019 a total of 21,776 were of Aboriginal students making up 29% of thetotal suspensions. 

2. School attendance rates for children in residential care (children who have been taken from their families but placed in an institutional care arrangement rather than with a foster family) have plummeted from 81% in 2017 to just 66% in 2019.

3. Students with a disability continue to be the subject of excess suspensions. Across all stages in 2019 there were 65,415 school suspensions with 42,390 of these being of students with a disability, making up 65% of all suspensions.

How many students are being suspended and why?

Of the 74,458 total suspensions in 2019 of 62,872 or 84% of them were for misbehaviour or disobedience. Only a small minority of instances were for violence or criminal behaviour. This is the full breakdown of suspensions by duration and reason.
















The data shows a disturbing pattern for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students who represent about 5.8% of students but more than 30% of suspensions. In 2019 they represented 29% of short suspensions (3 days or less) and 30.8% of long suspensions (4 days or more).

This means Aboriginal students are more than 6.6 times as likely to be suspended as their non-Aboriginal counterparts, and once suspended the suspensions are likely to be for longer. 

Of the 74,458 student suspensions in 2019 a total of 21,776 were of Aboriginal students making up 29% of the total suspensions. These numbers have grown significantly since last year. 







Students in Out of Home Care

Some of the most vulnerable students in NSW are those who have been taken from their families and placed in residential care arrangements, rather than with a foster family or their extended kinship network. Sometimes this is described as “alternative care.” It is essentially care in a motel or institutional setting rather than a family.

At any one time there are 130 to 200 children in this situation in NSW. The most recent figure as at December 2019 was 131 children. One of these children had been in residential care for 711 days.

The school attendance rates for these children have dropped significantly in the past three years. In answers to questions on notice in budget estimates the NSW Education Department said:

The NSW Department of Education is committed to the wellbeing of our students in statutory out-of-home-care (OOHC) and to ensuring that they attend school, learn and flourish.

The overall attendance rates for this cohort have dropped from approximately 81 per cent in 2017 to 66 per cent in 2019.

Whatever the commitment the results have been dreadful. These are children who are  supervised 24 hours a day by a worker directly supplied by the Department of Communities and Justice or an accredited NGO. However they are now failing to attend school one third of the time, up from one fifth of the time just three years ago.

Rather than getting better, on all these measures school attendance by the most vulnerable kids is getting worse. It is likely a significant reason why kids in residential care are missing so much school is because they are being targeted with suspensions.

Students with a disability