July 30, 2008

Pupils Fight for Troubled College


MASTERTON'S Makoura College faces a fresh setback in its fight for survival, with new figures showing it has the highest suspension rate in the lower North Island.

The troubled college, which is set to close as it suffers a falling roll and loss of community confidence, doled out 30 suspensions last year -- more than one for every 10 pupils. Suspended pupils cannot attend school till the board of trustees decides their fate.

But though Makoura had the highest suspension rate of 109.5 per 1000 pupils, Taita College gave out the highest number of suspensions, 34 -- a rate of 43.8 per 1000 -- and Heretaunga College was third- highest with 27 (35.6 per 1000).

Makoura's 245 pupils are fighting to save their school, with a group of seniors trying to muster 10,000 signatures for a petition to be presented to Parliament next week.

The school board is under pressure to reverse its recommendation for a managed closure. A plan to merge with the 1200-pupil Wairarapa College was rejected.

Year 12 pupils Sophie Brenkley and Nicky Lucas said it was a heartbreaking time for pupils.

"All my friends went to Wai Coll but I made a choice to come here. It has a smaller environment and we are individuals, not just numbers," Nicky said. "Young people of Masterton should be given a choice as to how they are educated."

Education Ministry figures issued this week show that nationally pupils were stood down, suspended or kicked out of school more than 27,000 times last year -- though numbers fell and suspensions hit an eight-year low.

Taita College acting principal Clint Hawke said most suspensions were for continued disobedience, alcohol and drugs, or harmful behaviour. "That could be assaulting another student; that could be serious misbehaviour in the class."

This year the school had drastically reduced suspension figures - - currently standing at just four -- by introducing mentoring programmes and restorative-justice processes.

Wainuiomata High School dished out 38 suspensions in 2005, which fell to 18 last year.

But the college recorded 228 stand-downs for misbehaviour -- significantly more than any other lower North Island school.

Principal Rob Mill said stand- downs were a formal warning that sent a strong message about the school's firm line on theft, violence and abusive language.

The school's high stand-down rate -- nearly one for every four pupils -- did not signal widespread behavioural problems, just a different approach to dealing with misconduct, he said.

"We are addressing issues but we are not excluding kids. We say, 'You swear at a teacher in this school, you're going to get stood down'."




The lower North Island's top 10 suspension schools for 2007: Number of suspensions; Rate per 1000 pupils

Taita College 34; 43.8

Makoura College 30; 109.5

Heretaunga College 27; 35.6

Ruapehu College 25; 106.2

Awatapu College 25; 33

Tararua College 24; 52

Stratford High School 22; 40.3

Taradale High School 20; 21.4

Cullinane College 20; 61.6

Naenae College 20; 27.2

Source: Education Ministry

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