NZ Principals' Federation calls on Govt to introduce alternatives for 'very complex', 'troubled' students

Educators are urgently calling on the Government to introduce schooling alternatives for highly complex young people with behavioural issues.

The New Zealand Principals' Federation argues that regular schools are not equipped to cater towards students with serious behavioural problems - a very small percentage of young people affected by trauma or with neurodiversities that impact their day-to-day interactions.

Speaking to The AM Show on Friday, president Perry Rush said the federation is urging the Government to consider specialist schools for students who pose a risk to their peers.

"We have to be concerned about that a very, very small percentage of students - whether they are students who've experienced trauma in their lives and we see serious behaviour [problems], or a neurodiverse student who's acting out in the classroom as a consequence of the challenge of a very high sensory environment," Rush said.

Rush reiterated that diversity and mainstreaming within the system is fundamentally important, allowing students with neurodiversities, such as autism, or special education needs to be included in general education classrooms.

However, he says there needs to be urgent action around alternatives for "seriously troubled young people" with violent tendencies that threaten the safety of fellow students and staff. 

"We are seeing really serious, damaging behaviours - hitting, spitting, stabbing, sexualised behaviours towards other students. We have a legislative responsibility to be concerned about how we can protect not only that student, but the students around them," he said.

"We support inclusion, but we [need] a solution for those very, seriously troubled young people - and young people who are exhibiting behaviours that are harmful for those around them. We cannot support a schooling system where young people are being hurt, that is not okay. 

"We need some urgent solutions."

NZ Principals' Federation president Perry Rush says more needs to be done for a "very small percentage" of students with serious behavioural issues.
NZ Principals' Federation president Perry Rush says more needs to be done for a "very small percentage" of students with serious behavioural issues. Photo credit: RNZ

He referenced a recent incident in Auckland, where a student with autism was excluded from their school following a fight.

The boy, 13, moved to the school last year under a directed enrolment - meaning the Ministry of Education ordered the school to enrol the child after it initially refused.

Following his suspension, the boy wrote to the Children's Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft, claiming the school would not let him participate in regular school activities and kept him in a room away from - but in full view - of other children.

The boy's mother told RNZ her son had previously been excluded from other schools.

Rush said the school's treatment and eventual exclusion of the child indicates how some schools are not equipped to handle challenging students who require a more specialist approach to education.

"Exclusion is a very serious action… in most instances, young people are excluded because there has been violent behaviour that poses health and safety risk to other students and teachers," he said.

"That's not okay. We want to hold those young people in schools - we need answers."

Schooling alternatives designed especially for these young people would ensure they can continue their education in a supportive environment with the tools to handle their idiosyncrasies.

"The system is letting young people down. It is not the fault of the school, it is not the fault of the child. It is the fault of a system that is unwilling to consider credible alternatives to cater to these very, very complex young people," Rush said. 

He suggested more initiatives like Te Tupu Managed Moves, a pilot programme in Hawke's Bay that has been lauded for its success at supporting learners who are disengaged from education. 

The project, which initially started as a collective between schools in the Napier community, works to support disengaged young people displaying a raft of social and emotional issues in the classroom.

Rush says the initiative has demonstrated success at reducing suspensions and expulsions in complex young people.

However, the Government is not engaging with the federation's calls to action.

"We're not having a quick and ready response from the Government on these issues."

Newshub has contacted the Ministry of Education for comment.