5 Mar 2024

NZ school stand-down rates highest in 20 years

1:37 pm on 5 March 2024
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Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Schools stood down pupils 25,167 times in 2022 - the highest number in more than 20 years of records, Education Ministry figures show.

The figure was equivalent to almost 3.3 stand-downs for every 100 students, the highest rate on record by a narrow margin.

Stand-downs are the formal removal of a pupil from a school for no more than five days and the figures show 24 percent of the 18,681 young people stood down last year were stood down more than once.

Although stand-downs increased in 2022, the rates of more serious punishments - suspensions and exclusions/expulsions - remained similar to or lower than past years.

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Photo: Supplied

Stand-down rates were highest in West Coast at 6.7 per 100 pupils, followed by Southland with five stand downs per 100, and Waikato with 4.6.

Smoking, vaping or alcohol was behind 16 percent of stand-downs in 2022, the highest figure on record, and up from 8 percent in 2019.

Physical assault on students was the single highest cause of a stand-down, accounting for 29 percent of cases in 2022 - slightly lower than previous years.

The figures show the rate of stand-down for assaults on other students was close to one for every 100 students, almost the same as in 2019 before the pandemic began.

Stand-down rates were highest among 13 and 14-year-olds (about 7.5 per 100), boys (4.3 per 100), Māori pupils (five per 100), and students from schools in poorer communities (about 5 per 100 in primary schools and nearly 6 in secondary schools).

An Education Ministry report accompanying the figures said physical assaults and smoking or vaping had increased.

"The reason with the highest increase for stand downs was physical assaults on other students. These rose from 5917 cases in 2021 to 7409 cases in 2022 and accounted for 36 percent (1492 out of 4162) of the increase in stand-down cases," the report said.

"Smoking/vaping had the second highest increase and accounted for 20 percent (853 out of 4162) of the increase in stand down cases between 2021 and 2022."

The ministry's report said rates increased from 2016 to 2019, and again from 2020 to 2022, but there was no corresponding increase in more serious disciplinary responses.

In 2022, there were 2728 suspension cases affecting 2485 students, the report said.

Following the suspension process, schools and kura excluded 852 students and expelled 98, the report said.

Flow-on from lockdowns

Secondary Principals' Council chair Kate Gainsford said Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns have been a driver of the record numbers.

She told Morning Report not all students had safe or positive lockdown experiences, with some picking up bad habits to cope with stress from their parents.

"That relates to some of the figures you'll see around vaping and smoking and drinking and even violence and, of course, some families lost access for their young people and, for themselves, to some pretty important support networks and professional services."

Stand-downs from school could be effective as "a breathing space" for a plan to be pulled together to help the student and many went on to complete their schooling.

Many of the studetns, including those who were stood down repeatedly, needed to have timely access to support services.

Gainsford said there have been significant delays in getting the support workforce back to full strength for students and their families.

Minister looking into social investment supports

Education Minister Erica Stanford said the government would look into using a social investment approach to help support children before they were stood down.

"When I saw over the weekend, in my reading, the number of stand downs that we have, it is a trend that is going one way and it is not a good trend. We know that the outcomes for children who are stood down are not good," she said.

"It's this government's intention to make sure we're using a social investment approach, to ensure that we're getting to them before they're going to be stood down."

She said she had been horrified at seeing the number of programmes the Ministry of Education put money into "that we have no idea about the efficiency and the effectiveness of".

"One of the things that we're looking at doing is making sure we're fully evaluating everything we do, finding out what works and using data to identify kids before they get into a situation where they're being stood down."

Labour leader Chris Hipkins said the previous government had a plan to tackle youth vaping, but it was uncertain what the coalition planned to do.

"The current government have told us they're not going to proceed with that, but they haven't really told us what they're going to do instead."

He said there was a clear link between the children's behaviour and the pandemic.

"It was an incredibly pressured time for young people, a lot of disruption," he said. "We should make sure schools are supported to settle things down again there."

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