ACU (Australian Catholic University)

Insight

Issue 2, Spring 2011

Suspending school suspension

Suspending school suspension

Suspension is a tool regularly used in schools to punish kids who have misbehaved, but does it actually work? Margie Dimech spoke to Professor Sheryl Hemphill about the negative effects of traditional school discipline.

Professor Sheryl Hemphill is leading a team of psychologists working to determine what programs work when disciplining antisocial and violent children.

Her Senior Proven Research team at ACU’s School of Psychology aims to better understand youth issues such as homelessness, bullying and school suspension.

The team will expand on research undertaken by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) which evaluated programs to tackle violent and antisocial behaviour in children aged 10 to 14 years.

Focusing on this younger cohort provides an opportunity for early intervention.

"Previous research findings fit with what we expect: if you’ve been picked on and bullied, you might not be feeling so good inside," Professor Hemphill said. "But confirming the link through research is critical. A detailed picture of the longer term effects of adolescent bullying can provide schools with the evidence they need for better prevention programs."

Professor Hemphill said they consistently found negative effects when antisocial youth were grouped together.

"Young adolescents are most susceptible to antisocial peer influence, and such approaches should be particularly avoided for this age group.

"Schools might need to rethink the way they discipline children, because commonly used practices such as detention and suspension may do more harm than good."

School suspensions can have serious negative consequences for the suspended student, said Professor Hemphill. Correlation studies have found unintended consequences such as intensifying academic difficulties and school drop-out, disengagement from school, criminal activity, and alcohol and drug use.

Research undertaken by Professor Hemphill in 2006 and 2009 found that a student suspended from school is 50 per cent more likely to engage in antisocial behaviour and 70 per cent more likely to engage in violent behaviour in the next 12 months.

So what should be done to help children who start to display violent or antisocial behaviour?

"At this stage it’s not clear-cut. Anecdotally, it seems that schools that employ ‘restorative practice programs’ are having success. This approach is holistic and involves the school community.

"We hope that further testing of the effectiveness of these programs will help schools to know that the programs they are running are having a useful, positive effect."

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