This project aims to examine how and why Australian schools use exclusionary practices to manage ‘disorderly’ students. Australian schools commonly use exclusionary practices, such as suspensions (out-of-school) and exclusions (temporary or permanent), to help ‘manage’ unwanted student behaviour. These disciplinary practices are often ‘quick fixes’ which involve removing students who disrupt the ‘good order’ in schools and threaten others’ safety. They are intended to help students to change their behaviours or to allow time for strategies to be put in place to help avoid repeat situations.
School exclusions are a significant and pressing concern, given that research shows that exclusionary practices negatively impact on children’s health, wellbeing and academic achievement (e.g. Hemphill et al., 2017) and are directly associated with entry into the juvenile justice system (Skiba et al., 2016). These negative consequences spread to family members who share feelings of alienation, confusion and social isolation, as well as disrupted work and family arrangements (Parker et al., 2016).
Despite the widespread use of exclusionary practices to deal with problematic student behaviour in Australian schools, very little is known about the policy and political frameworks that guide these practices, how extensively they are being applied across states and territories, and what alternatives might work better.
This critical policy study aims to produce new insights and knowledge about exclusionary school policies and practices in Australia. It shifts the focus from the student as the ‘problem’ and considers structural and institutional influences on student behaviour. It employs a multi-phased approach to investigate the policies, practices, contexts, relationships and events that shape the ways in which schools use exclusions to ‘discipline’ students.
The research will address the following research questions:
1. In what ways do current federal and state policies guide the exclusion of students?
2. What is the nature and extent of exclusionary practices in the states and territories?
3. In what ways do exclusionary practices impact on students and their families?
4. What alternative policy constructions can schools draw on to address student behaviour issues?
To develop a National Policy Audit to map, describe and explain existing policy documents, legislation and regulations framing exclusion practices across the country. The intention is to provide a basis for critical policy analysis in order to better understand the ways in which the practice of exclusion is framed and represented and the resulting effects.
To create a National Data Profile which identifies the nature and extent of out-of-school exclusions. This Profile will provide information from across states and jurisdictions that will enable an analysis of the extent of exclusionary practices and the impact on different demographic groups. This Profile will provide empirical evidence to inform policy, research and practice.
To generate Illustrative Case Studies to better comprehend the complexity and multiple effects of exclusion from the point of view of young people themselves and their families. This ethnographic data will provide a significant human face to the phenomenon under investigation. These case studies will identify and explain the affective dimension of exclusionary policies as well as providing the impetus for fresh insights and alternative solutions.
To generate a Set of Policy Alternatives for legislatures, education systems, schools and their communities to engage in purposeful debate, discussion and action to reduce school exclusions and implement more inclusive practices which will improve educational outcomes for all students, irrespective of their backgrounds and circumstances.