Investigation into Victorian government school expulsions

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Letter to the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly

To

The Honourable the President of the Legislative Council

and

The Honourable the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly

Pursuant to sections 25 and 25AA of the Ombudsman Act 1973 (Vic), I present to Parliament my Investigation into Victorian government school expulsions.

Deborah Glass signature

Deborah Glass OBE
Ombudsman

14 August 2017

Foreword

[“Andrew”] is lucky, he’s got us in his corner but other kids don’t have that and where do they end up? Where are those kids? I know where they are, they’re not at school, they slip through the cracks, they end up in the justice system.
– Parent of “Andrew” to VO investigators
We’re looking at the individual child, not the effect that child has on the system. And we need to look at both … the teacher hasn’t taught the grade for a week because this kid’s going berserk.
- School Principal to VO investigators

Every year several hundred children are expelled from government schools. While this is a tiny fraction of the number of children in those schools, the impact of expulsion on the child, their family, and potentially, the wider community cannot be overstated. A disproportionate number of expelled children have a disability, are in out of home care, or identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Some come from backgrounds of significant trauma. Some are only five or six years old.

The official number is likely to be only a fraction of the number of children informally expelled, on whom no data is kept. Somewhere between hundreds and thousands of children each year disengage from formal education at least in part as a result of pressure from schools. We simply do not know where they end up.

But we do know that some 60 per cent of those in the youth justice system had previously been suspended or expelled from school, and over 90 per cent of adults in our prisons did not complete secondary school. The link between educational disadvantage and incarceration is not new, but remains compelling.

That there are so few children formally expelled must also be a testament to the many dedicated teachers and principals who deal with challenging behaviour by children daily. There is no doubt that such children present a problem not only for a school and its staff, but for other children, whose learning may be compromised by disruptive behaviour. This is a difficult balancing act which many schools are obliged to manage repeatedly.

But while everyone should be able to work and study in a safe environment, expelling a child simply shifts the “problem” of the child’s behaviour from one part of the system to another - to another school, another department, to a parent who cannot cope - potentially entrenching or escalating those behaviours. In many of the cases we reviewed, had the school been willing - or better supported - to deal with the behaviour, the expulsion may not have been necessary.

A key purpose of the investigation was to find out whether expulsions complied with the Ministerial Order - which includes ensuring the student is provided with other educational and development opportunities. What we found was a confused and incomplete picture. There were so many gaps in the Expulsion Reports and data in 2016 it was not possible to answer the question with any certainty. But we can say that some two-thirds of expulsions failed to comply on at least one count, with the lack of information suggesting that this number may well be considerably higher.

We obtained evidence of the lack of early intervention for Aboriginal students, that while help was available it was often brought in too late; for students with disabilities, that instead of providing extra assistance, supplementary funding is used to justify limiting a child’s attendance at school. The influence of trauma - such as exposure to family violence - was also powerfully present in the cases we examined.

[Being expelled is] just another layer of trauma for my child that I now have to address …yes he’s doing well at this school but he would have done well at that school if we’d been able to do the things that we said they were going to do …
– Parent of “Ben” to VO investigators

Expulsion for drug use was also prevalent, for reasons ranging from a single instance of being under the influence, to dealing. In any event, as experts point out, expulsion is, at best, a short term solution, that does not address the underlying cause but shifts the problem elsewhere.

A child goes to another school, they’ve been expelled so straight away they’re starting behind the 8 ball. They’re kids … they’ve got enough problems trying to get through everything as it is ... It destroys families ... I don’t think it’s really looked upon, how big a step it is and how much it affects people.
– Parent of “Daniel” to VO investigators

My investigators went out across Victoria, meeting parents, community groups and others with an interest. These regional visits greatly enriched the breadth and quality of evidence we received, and many of the cases are included in this report. Some of the stories we heard were heartbreaking. It is clear from these cases that these were not bad children; many were children who had bad things happen to them. I thank all of those who spoke with my investigators or made submissions, for their honesty, openness and assistance.

Our investigation found some things being done well - individual good work by both principals and regional department officials demonstrating the success of some approaches, as well as broader programs such as the Education Justice Initiative, which attempts to re-engage young people in the criminal justice system back into education. Other worthwhile initiatives and reforms were also observed after our investigation had begun, and I encourage the department to continue and build on this important work.

My jurisdiction does not extend to non-government schools and in any event no data is available for expulsions there, although common sense dictates that what goes on in one part of the education sector has an impact on the other. The paucity of data across the sector – haphazard and incomplete where it does exist - makes it impossible for us to determine just how bad the problems are.

But there can be no doubt that students from vulnerable groups are over-represented in the numbers of those expelled - formally and informally. Given the autonomy of schools in this area, the department is struggling to address the issues.

How can we ever justify expelling a five-year-old? A welcome start would be recognising that while expulsion remains an option of last resort, no child should ever be expelled from the state’s education system as a whole. A commitment to supporting early intervention is also vital. The challenging behaviour of children is frequently rooted in trauma, disability or mental health. The investment not made in supporting schools to deal with this behaviour will almost inevitably require a vastly greater investment later, elsewhere, to deal with their challenging behaviour as adults.

Deborah Glass
Ombudsman

Executive summary

  1. On 1 September 2016 the Ombudsman announced an investigation into expulsions at Victorian government schools. The investigation was prompted by four primary factors.
  2. First, although the office does not receive high numbers of complaints about expulsions, those that were made contained similar grievances: families felt that expulsions were unfair or disproportionate; that there was a lack of opportunity to be heard; and a lack of support to find another school for their child following expulsion.
  3. Second, the office was aware of work by the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria in early 2016 into expulsions and student engagement, from which it was apparent that the sector was concerned that expulsions were growing, vulnerable groups were over-represented and that informal expulsions were an ongoing and potentially larger issue.
  4. Third, this office requested expulsion data from 2013 to 2016, which revealed expulsions had increased by 25 per cent from 2014 to 2015. This increase seemed to confirm that this was an escalating issue.
  5. Finally, youth crime in Victoria was increasing with a small cohort of children reportedly responsible. The negative correlation between disengagement from education and difficulties for young people, including contact with the youth justice system, is well evidenced.
  6. The investigation was an attempt to explore these issues and give the most complete picture of expulsions in government schools recently undertaken. The lack of data, described further in this report, means it is not the full picture and there is more to be done within the department and government.

Education in Victoria (summary)

  1. The system in Victoria is complex. It is shaped by shifts in educational trends and teaching methodology; population and demographic changes; the needs of the labour market; and importantly, the policy objectives of the Commonwealth and State governments of the day.
  2. As with other states, Victoria’s education system is further complicated by the fact that it exists parallel with the non-government education sector comprised primarily of Catholic and independent schools. Additionally, both government and non-government schools have complex arrangements where a mix of Commonwealth and State funding makes up what is spent on a student’s education.
  3. For principals and teachers working within this complex system, their job is a difficult one. They are required to balance the high needs and difficult behaviour of some students with the educational needs of all students, as well as the safety and welfare of both students and teachers. In these circumstances, it is appropriate for expulsion to be considered as an option where other methods of dealing with the student’s behaviour have failed – that is, it truly is a last resort.
  4. But, in many cases, schools do not appear to be equipped with the resources, expertise and assistance, within the school and from the department more broadly, to provide the necessary support to students with higher needs. The behaviour of these children may be extremely challenging, but it must be within the power of our education sector to support these children rather than simply shifting the challenge of the student’s behaviour from one school to another.

Formal expulsions

Vulnerable students

  1. The number of students expelled each year from government schools in Victoria is low when compared to the total student population. In 2016 there were 278 students formally expelled.
  2. The investigation’s analysis found that in 2016 most expulsions occurred for students between years 8 and 10 and that boys were vastly over-represented. Perhaps more concerning, however, were the instances of children in the early years of primary school also being expelled. It is difficult to conceive of circumstances where the behaviour of children as young as five or six could be of such magnitude that expulsion is the only option available.
  3. Those who were expelled were often from vulnerable student groups. The investigation’s analysis of formal expulsions in 2016 found that students in out of home care, students with disabilities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are all over-represented in expulsion figures.
  4. Students in out of home care face significant challenges in their life and the importance of education for these students cannot be overstated. They represented less than two per cent of the student population but over five per cent of expulsions. While there are safeguards in place if expulsion of a student in out of home care is being considered, the Expulsion Reports do not give sufficient detail as to whether these safeguards are being enacted or are effective.
  5. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were another vulnerable group who make up a small percentage of the total student population, again less than two per cent but accounted for approximately six per cent of the expulsions that occurred in 2016. While departmental policy states that if a school is considering expelling an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child it should consider contacting the region, the investigation received evidence that this is not occurring regularly.
  6. Perhaps the most affected group of vulnerable students were those that receive funding for a disability. They are the subject of several case studies throughout this report and the vulnerability of the students and the sense of powerlessness felt by their families can be acute. Some of the stories told are concerning and deeply sad.
  7. The decision to expel students with a disability raises significant human rights issues. It is troubling that even though children’s rights are not absolute, the Ministerial Order does not make a single reference to the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.
  8. Many of these vulnerable students had suffered childhood trauma which was regularly cited by witnesses and in submissions as a key area of concern regarding expulsions. Students suffering from trauma-related behavioural problems were identified as presenting a significant challenge for schools and one they were perhaps ill-equipped to handle.
  9. It must be acknowledged that there are bound to be other stories of students and their families who have been greatly supported at their schools and have not been expelled; a couple of these stories are reflected in this report. However, this report largely draws attention to cases where the system has failed students.
  10. The case studies detailed in this report are evidence of the need to continue to improve our education system and support those in most need. To its credit, upon reading a draft version of this report the department offered to contact the families of the students in the case studies to offer any support they may need.

Observations of expulsions

  1. Ministerial Order 625 gives principals the power to expel students from government schools. The Ministerial Order sets out the grounds under which a principal can expel a student and what processes need to be followed. It seeks to protect students from unfair expulsions.
  2. The investigation identified serious concerns about whether the requirements of the Ministerial Order are being adhered to and whether the department is providing sufficient support and oversight to ensure principals fulfil their obligations when expelling a student. In the majority of expulsions the requirements of the Ministerial Order were not met.
  3. This includes the failure to meet basic requirements of the Ministerial Order, including that expulsions are recorded in the department’s student record system which did not occur in nearly two third of cases. In other instances the Expulsion Reports reviewed did not demonstrate that a student’s behaviour was of such a magnitude that expulsion was the only available response.
  4. Perhaps most concerning were the instances where there was no effective plan to find the student a new school. Sixty-one of the students expelled in 2016 were out of school for between three and 12 months following their expulsion. Considering the importance of education, having students out of school for many months following an
    expulsion is clearly not appropriate or compliant with the Ministerial Order.
  5. It is important that the department strengthen its oversight of expulsions to ensure that the legal requirements as set out in the Ministerial Order are met.
  6. There is also a clear need for improvements in ensuring students facing expulsion are granted procedural fairness. A young person at risk of expulsion ought to have an equal or greater expectation of protection than an adult facing potential termination of employment, not less. Yet it is not mandatory that principals conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations against a student before proceeding with expulsion. While departmental guidance states that it is best practice to conduct investigations, there is no obligation to, and failure to do so does not of itself create a right of appeal.
  7. Inconsistency was also apparent across the expulsions, with the magnitude of behaviour that would lead to expulsion varying across schools. This was most striking in the expulsions that were related to drugs: a student caught smoking marijuana one time was punished the same way as a student dealing drugs in a school.

Informal expulsions

  1. Formal expulsions are not the full story. There was clear evidence, although a paucity of data, suggesting that informal expulsions are more prevalent, despite departmental policy prohibiting their use.
  2. Formal and informal expulsions, along with a myriad of other reasons students stop attending school, mean that thousands of school-aged children exit the education system each year. There needs to be every attempt made to identify these students and keep them in education.
  3. There were 278 1 students expelled in 2016 yet the department states that around 6,800 students per year disengage from government education between year 9 and 12. It can only be concluded that somewhere between these two figures is an indicative number for informal expulsions.
  4. There is a clear need for the department to improve its processes so that it knows why students leave school and can begin to get some sense of the number of informal expulsions and what can be done to prevent them.
  5. This does not mean that there is never a benefit in a change of school for a student. For whatever reason, the relationship between a school and a student may have broken down and for all concerned a fresh start is needed. But it is important that this process is appropriately managed and that the department has sufficient oversight of it.

Collection and use of data

  1. Government agencies need reliable and accurate data to inform good policy making and enable them to provide evidence-based advice to government. During the investigation, obtaining accurate data from the department regarding school expulsions was a constant source of difficulty.
  2. The expulsion figures for 2016 took several months to confirm and there remained inconsistencies in this data. Key information such as the number of expulsions within vulnerable student groups or what the outcomes were for expelled students was incomplete, not available or only produced, with some effort, to assist with this investigation.
  3. Given what is known about the adverse outcomes for disengaged young people, including increased contact with the criminal justice system, it is critical that the education system comply with the Ministerial Order and places children in education or training as a matter of urgency if they are expelled.
  4. The lack of data makes it difficult if not impossible for the department to recognise patterns in which student groups are being expelled and to subsequently develop policies to address any issues identified. There is a clear need for better data and oversight systems.

Effect of disengagement from education

  1. Considering the relatively low numbers of expulsions it may be tempting to ask if this issue is worth such attention. The testimony of parents in this report of the effect expulsion has on students and their families itself justifies the attention and the need to highlight these issues and drive improvement.
  2. But the impacts of expulsion and disengagement echo beyond these students and their families. The positive link between education and better results in a person’s life is well established. Similarly, a negative correlation exists between disengagement from education and difficulties for young people, including contact with the criminal justice system. This correlation highlights the importance of ensuring expulsions are used as a last resort and that expelled children are supported to engage in education.
  3. In 2015, 1,094 young people involved in the youth justice system were surveyed and 60 per cent had previously been suspended or expelled from school. As a witness to the investigation stated when asked the effect of expulsion, ‘A whole lot of nasty stuff I’d say. What a terrible start to a life, seriously’.
  4. Despite this, the department has delivered some effective programs to re-engage students and reduce expulsions. The LOOKOUT Centres, Navigator Program and Education Justice Initiative are all positive programs effectively assisting particularly vulnerable groups and keeping them in education.
  5. Similarly the experience of many of the students in the case studies in this report, who after their expulsion are thriving at their new schools, show that when the right supports are put in place it is not beyond the education system to help the most vulnerable students.\

Conclusions (summary)

  1. There are comparatively few formal expulsions from Victorian government schools each year. However, for those students who are expelled, this is a significant punishment and can have a profound impact on their lives. Apart from the rejection and trauma that being expelled may cause, children disengaged from school are also more likely to come in to contact with the youth justice system.
  2. The data collected by the department is haphazard, incomplete and insufficient to make informed policy decisions with respect to expulsions. This is surprising given the profound impact an expulsion may have on a student.
  3. The absence of data and the department’s limited oversight of school expulsions, has contributed to the department’s failure to identify and address the prevalence of expulsions among vulnerable groups and schools’ non-compliance with the Ministerial Order, which seeks to protect students from unfair expulsions.
  4. Formal expulsions are not the full story. There is clear evidence, although a paucity of data, suggesting that informal expulsions are more prevalent, despite departmental policy prohibiting their use. These do not get recorded or allow for the mandated supports to assist a student to further their education as set out in Ministerial Order for formal expulsions.
  5. As with formal expulsions there is evidence in the form of case studies and submissions that vulnerable groups may be more likely to be informally expelled but inevitably
    there is no data available to confirm this. The department does not routinely keep records of why students move from one school to another.
  6. There is a clear case for more to be done regarding informal expulsions, although the issue cannot be addressed adequately until the department is able to measure the scale of the issue and fill in the significant gaps in its data.

Scope and methodology

Terms of reference

  1. On 7 September 2016 the Ombudsman wrote to the Minister for Education the Hon James Merlino MP and the Secretary of the Department of Education and Training (the department), Ms Gill Callister notifying of her intention to conduct an own motion investigation into the expulsion of students from Victorian government schools.
  2. On 8 September 2016 the investigation was publicly announced, with the following terms of reference:
    • Whether the department is complying with Ministerial Order No. 625 – Procedures for Suspension and Expulsion (the Ministerial Order) and policies regarding government school expulsions, which include: ensuring relevant parties are notified that an expulsion is being considered; ensuring a conference is conducted with the affected student; ensuring the student is provided with other educational and development opportunities; and providing a fair and effective appeals process.
    • Whether vulnerable or at-risk students are over-represented in expulsion numbers and whether the department is effectively addressing any such issues.
    • Whether the data collected by the department regarding expulsions is sufficient to inform departmental policy-making and programs.
    • Whether the department is monitoring and preventing instances of informal expulsions, which occur outside the formal expulsion process.
  3. The investigation was prompted by four primary factors.
  4. First, although the office does not receive high numbers of complaints about expulsions, those that were made contained similar grievances: families felt that expulsions were unfair or disproportionate; that there was a lack of opportunity to be heard; and a lack of support to find another school for their child following expulsion.
  5. Second, the office was also aware that through early 2016 the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVIC) was working on a report into expulsions and student engagement. 2 As part of its work YACVIC held a forum in April 2016, which was attended by education professionals, advocates, academics and two officers from the Ombudsman. It became clear at this forum that those present had a sense that expulsions were growing, vulnerable groups were over-represented and that informal expulsions were an ongoing and potentially larger issue. What was lacking was the data and detailed information to confirm this.
  6. Third, this office requested expulsion data from 2013 to 2016, which revealed expulsions had increased by 25 per cent from 2014 to 2015. 3 This increase seemed to confirm the sense at the YACVIC forum of an escalating issue.
  7. The department has since advised that the expulsion data it provided did not include expulsions that occurred after August during a school year. The department provided revised figures showing that there were in fact 267 expulsions in 2014 and 309 in 2015, an increase of over 15 per cent. 4
  8. Finally, youth crime in Victoria was increasing with a small cohort of children reportedly responsible. The negative correlation between disengagement from education and difficulties for young people, including contact with the youth justice system, is well evidenced.
  9. The department was given the opportunity to respond to the Ombudsman’s draft report on 8 June 2017. The department provided responses on 26 and 27 June 2017, both of which have been fairly set out in this report.

Jurisdiction

  1. The investigation was undertaken pursuant to section 16A of the Ombudsman Act 1973, which provides that the Ombudsman may conduct an own motion investigation into any administrative action taken by or in an authority, the definition of which includes a department. The Ombudsman Act does not provide jurisdiction for the Ombudsman to investigate non-government schools.
  2. Under section 23(2) of the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman also has the power to enquire into or investigate whether any administrative action ‘is incompatible with a human right set out in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006’.
  3. The primary focus of the investigation was the involvement of the department in relation to Victorian government school expulsions, rather than investigating individual expulsion cases through the relevant school. The investigation did not specifically look at suspensions.
  4. It is worth clarifying what an expulsion is compared with a suspension. The department defines expulsion and suspension as follows:

    Expulsion
    is the process of permanently excluding the student from the school in which he or she is currently enrolled. 5

    Suspension
    is a disciplinary measure that involves temporary removal of a student from classes or school approved activities for a specified period of time. Your child will be allowed to return to class or the school approved activity after the set period of suspension. 6
  5. While the investigation was concerned primarily with expulsions there will on occasion be reference to suspension in this respect. This is particularly the case where a student was initially suspended in the immediate aftermath of their behaviour and the decision was then made to start the expulsion process.
  6. This report does not include direct evidence to the investigation from students who have been expelled. As was noted in the Ombudsman’s recent Report on youth justice facilities at the Grevillea unit of Barwon Prison, Malmsbury and Parkville, changes to the Ombudsman Act in 2012 prevent the Ombudsman from interviewing people under 16 years of age during an investigation, regardless of whether they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Approach

    1. The investigation involved:
      • calling for and receiving 16 submissions from community, education and similar organisations as well as private individuals
      • analysing the departement's policies and processes regarding school expulsions including: Ministerial Order No. 625 - Procedures for Suspension and Expulsion - 2014; Ministerial Order No. 184 - Procedures for Suspension and Expulsion (Superceded) - 2009; Student Engagement Policy - 2017; School Policy and Advisory Guide - 2017; Expulsion Process Flowchart - 2014; Student Resource Package 2016 Guide; Program for Students with Disabilities – operational guidelines for schools 2017; Student Support Group Guidelines - 2015; Marrung Aboriginal Education Plan - 2016; Out of Home Care Education Commitment - 2011; and Drug Education Policy - 2017
      • undertaking cross-jurisdictional comparisons in Australia and overseas to compare education and expulsion policies and practice
      • reviewing the reports for all 278 school expulsions in the 2016 school year
      • reviewing all 22 expulsion appeal files for 2016
      • reviewing data provided by the department relating to school expulsions as well as data on vulnerable student groups, including: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
        students; students with a disability; students who receive funding for a disability, behavioural or learning difficulties; students in out of home care; students who are clients of Child Protection; and students from linguistically or culturally diverse backgrounds
      • conducting four regional visits during which investigators: held six sessions in regional towns and cities 7 within the four departmental regions to enable members of the public to meet with investigators face to face and discuss their experience; met with 13 stakeholder and community groups to discuss education issues in their communities
      • conducting 25 voluntary interviews with 32 witnesses including: 13 parents of expelled students; 12 departmental employees and school principals; and 7 witnesses from other organisations including Professor Michael Kidd, a senior academic who specialises in researching the links between education and crime
      • meeting with eight stakeholder and community or education groups in Melbourne
      • engaging a clinical psychologist, Ms Katrina Streatfeild to review a sample of Expulsion Reports for indications of childhood trauma.
    2. The Ombudsman’s opinion and the reasons for that opinion are being reported to the Secretary of the department pursuant to section 23(1) of the Ombudsman Act.
    3. In accordance with section 25A(3) of the Ombudsman Act, any individual who is identifiable, or may be identifiable from the information in this report, is not the subject
      of any adverse comment or opinion. They are named or identified in this report as:
      • the Ombudsman is satisfied that it is necessary or desirable to do so in the public interest, and
      • the Ombudsman is satisfied that identifying those persons will not cause unreasonable damage to the persons’ reputation, safety or wellbeing.

    Anonymity

    1. Throughout this report, case studies detail the experience of students and their families during expulsions, both formal and informal. The case studies do not identify the student or their families for privacy reasons and given the age and vulnerability of many of the students involved. In some cases the age and year level of the student has been removed to further protect their identity.
    2. In addition, the case studies do not name individual schools as this may result in the identification of the students in case studies.
    3. For these reasons, the names used in the case studies throughout this report are not the real names of the students involved. References to evidence that may identify the student have also been removed.

    Education in Victoria

    The complexity of education in Victoria

    1. The government education system in Victoria was established in 1872 with the passing of the Education Act 1872, establishing education as ‘free, secular and compulsory’. 8
    2. While this simple principle underpins the Victorian education system, the reality of how the education system functions is far more complex. It is shaped by shifts in educational trends and teaching methodology; population and demographic changes; the needs of the labour market; and importantly, the policy objectives of the Commonwealth and State governments of the day.
    3. As with other states, Victoria’s education system is further complicated by the fact that it exists parallel with the non-government education sector comprised primarily of Catholic and independent schools. Additionally, both government and non-government schools have complex arrangements where a mix of Commonwealth and State funding makes up what is spent on a student’s education.
    4. A review of school funding, undertaken for the department by the former Premier the Hon Steve Bracks, Greater Returns on Investment in Education, noted:

      "Victoria’s funding allocation model is a mix of needs based, cost based, capped, and legacy funding, and lacks a clear link to future strategy. In addition, funding is hard to understand as it is allocated simultaneously to schools, regions, programs and workforces, creating complexity and a lack of coherence, and constraining innovation. 9 "
    5. The complexity of the Australian education system is unique, as was observed by the late Professor Jack Keating:

      "No other OECD country has separate and mostly publicly-funded school sectors competing against each other for the economically and educationally advantaged student market. No other country allows such arrangements to have such a heavy impact on education policy. 10 "
    6. This means that the student population in Victoria is mixed. In 2016 there were 1,524 Victorian government primary and secondary schools with 588,908 students enrolled, comprising:
      • 350,583 students in primary school
      • 224,221 students in secondary school
      • 12,503 students in special schools
      • 1,601 students in language schools. 11
    7. A further 343,199 students were educated in Catholic and independent schools, 12 or nearly 37 per cent of the student population.
    8. This inherent complexity in the education system presented difficulties during the investigation. The number of expulsions in the non-government school sector is not publicly available and therefore it is not possible to determine if expulsion rates are comparable across the government and non-government sectors.
    9. The investigation made enquiries with both the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority 13 and the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority, 14 and neither was able to provide a figure for expulsions in non-government schools.
    10. One of the Regional Directors from the department commented on the difficulty this presents:

      "There’s a missing piece in that puzzle … and there’s government funding that goes to those schools and so in the community interest … if you know something about government schools why shouldn’t we know about other schools? 15
    11. The department was also unable to provide data to demonstrate how expulsions in non-government schools impact the government school sector, such as, how many students expelled in the non-government sector are subsequently enrolled in government schools and what the outcomes were for these students.
    12. In its response to the Ombudsman’s draft report the department stated:

      "It would be useful if the report could note that the department does not collect the reasons for school enrolment or transfers between sectors. The student transferring may not be willing to share the reason for the transfer and are not required to do so, as any enrolment in a government school is a parent’s choice."
    13. On top of the structural complexity of the system is the most important challenge that faces this and any other education system meeting the needs of the students. In the Victorian system the students range from Prep to Year 12, across metropolitan and regional settings, all with differing needs and vulnerabilities.
    14. While it is important to acknowledge all the factors that contribute to the complexity of the Victorian education system, it is also worth noting that the investigation looked at a discrete aspect of the education system: expulsions at Victorian government schools.

    Education Training and Reform Act 2006

    1. The Education Training and Reform Act 2006 is the primary piece of education legislation in Victoria, its main purpose being:

      " … to reform the law relating to education and training in Victoria by providing for a high standard of education and training for all Victorians. 16 "
    2. In Victoria the compulsory school age is between 6 and 17 years of age. 17 Under the Education and Training Reform Act there is no specific obligation placed on the State to provide students of compulsory school age an education. However, a principle of the Act is that ‘universal access’ to education is provided by the State through ‘the establishment and maintenance of a government education and training system’. 18
    3. Further, section 1.2.2(2)(c) of the Act states:

      "Every student has the right to attend a designated neighbourhood government school with the exception of selective government schools that are determined by the Minister."
    4. Section 2.1 of the Act places an onus on parents to ensure their children receive an education. It states:

      "It is the duty of the parent of a child of not less than 6 nor more than 17 years of age:

      a. to enrol the child at a registered school and to ensure the child attends the school at all times when the school is open for the child’s instruction; or

      b. to register the child for home schooling in accordance with the regulations and to ensure that the child receives instruction in accordance with the registration. 19 "
    5. A parent failing this obligation can be guilty of an offence and be fined approximately $77.50.
    6. At present there is no legislated right to education in Victoria for children. The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (the Charter) provides various rights for children; however, a right to education is not one of them.

    The structure of the department

    1. The department is responsible for providing education services to students through the government schooling system.
    2. The department is organised into seven central units one of which is the regional services group. This group comprises four regions across the state, each covering a mix of metropolitan and regional schools. These regions provide much of the support and services to schools as well as support to students and their families. This report largely concentrates on these regions as the representative of the department in dealing with expulsion matters.
    1. Each region has a Regional Director under whom sit a variety of staff who act to support schools and students within the region – including nurses, language officers, health and wellbeing officers and Koori education officers.
    2. The four regional offices are further broken down into 17 areas throughout the state to provide further localised support to schools and students. The introduction of 17 areas within the regional structure is one of the changes under the State Government’s Education State Initiative and aligns with the regional structure used by the Department of Health and Human Services.
    3. In responding to the Ombudsman’s draft report the department provided the following information about changes to its regional model:

    The Education State initiative

    1. The State Government’s 2015-16 Budget included $4 billion in funding for early childhood, schools and training 20 to support its Education State initiative. The initiative sought to ‘revitalise our education system and transform Victoria into the Education State’ 21 and set targets under the following themes:
      • Learning for Life (Excellence in reading, maths, science and the arts, and in critical and creative thinking)
      • Happy, Healthy and Resilient Kids (Building resilience and physical activity in our children)
      • Breaking the Link (Ensuring more students stay in school and eliminating the connection between outcomes and disadvantage)
      • Pride and Confidence in our Schools (Making sure every community has access to excellence, in every school and classroom ). 22
    2. Some of the new programs and structural changes that have come about from the Education State are referred to throughout this report.


    Conclusions

    1. There are comparatively few formal expulsions from Victorian government schools each year. However, for those students who are expelled, this is a significant punishment and can have a profound impact on their lives. Apart from the rejection and trauma that being expelled may cause, children disengaged from school are also more likely to come into contact with the youth justice system.
    2. The investigation’s analysis of expulsions in 2016 found that most expulsions occur for students between years 8 and 10 and that boys are vastly over-represented. Perhaps more concerning, however, are the instances of children in the early years of primary school also being expelled. It is difficult to conceive of circumstances where the behaviour of children as young as five or six could be of such magnitude that expulsion is the only option available.
    3. The expulsions that are occurring also disproportionately affect some of the most vulnerable student groups, including students with disabilities, those in out of home care and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
    4. These vulnerable groups are not sufficiently protected by the current Ministerial Order and there is a need for greater support from the department for these students. Whether other vulnerable groups such as recent arrivals are also over-represented is not known due to poor data collection within the department. There is a clear need for improvement in this area.
    5. It must be acknowledged that the job of principals and teachers is a difficult one, balancing the high needs and difficult behaviour of some students with the educational needs of all students, as well as the safety and welfare of both students and teachers. In these circumstances, it is appropriate for expulsion to be considered as an option where other methods of dealing with the student’s behaviour have failed – that is, it truly is a last resort.
    6. But, in many cases, schools do not appear to be equipped with the resources, expertise and assistance, within the school and from the department more broadly, to provide the necessary support to students with higher needs; hence, the reliance on expulsion. The behaviour of these children may be extremely challenging, but it must be within the power of our education sector to support these children rather than simply shifting the challenge of the student’s behaviour from one school to another.
    7. Formal expulsions are not the full story. There is clear evidence, although a paucity of data, suggesting that informal expulsions are more prevalent, despite departmental policy prohibiting their use. These do not get recorded or allow for the mandated supports to assist a student to further their education as set out in the Ministerial Order for formal expulsions.
    8. Formal and informal expulsions, along with a myriad of other reasons students stop attending school, mean that thousands of school-aged children exit the education system each year. There needs to be every attempt made to identify these students and keep them in education.
    9. Not only does this improve their prospects but research demonstrates that keeping young people in education reduces their likelihood of committing crimes in their youth and in later life. The benefits for society are obvious.
    10. The findings of a review into the Education Justice Initiative illustrate this point. The clients of the Education Justice Initiative were children who had come in contact with the youth justice system. Forty-six per cent of them were not enrolled in education at the time they appeared at the Children’s Court and 32 per cent had been excluded from school.

    Oversight and data

    Oversight

    1. In March 2014, Ministerial Order No.625 replaced Ministerial Order No.184 significantly shifting the level of departmental involvement in the expulsion process. Crucially, under the previous Ministerial Order a principal was required to notify the region if a student’s expulsion was being considered. The Regional Director was then required to
      send an officer to the school to discuss the potential expulsion, to ensure that there was an appropriate plan for the student’s future if the expulsion went ahead and to help implement this plan.
    2. Under Ministerial Order No. 625 the power to expel a student is exercised by the principal alone. The department, through the Regional Director, is only notified of an expulsion after the fact (unless the student is in out of home care) and can only review an expulsion if it is appealed. There can also be departmental involvement after an expulsion if the school or parent asks for help in finding a new school for the student.
    3. The record of expulsion provided to the Regional Director consists of the Expulsion Report and Notice of Expulsion, both completed by the principal. These documents do not provide sufficient information for the department or the Ombudsman to determine whether an expulsion has been carried out in accordance with the Ministerial Order.
    4. What can be concluded is that close to two thirds of expulsions in 2016 did not meet the requirements of the Ministerial Order by virtue of the fact they are not recorded in the department’s CASES21 system.

    Data

    1. The data collected by the department is haphazard, incomplete and insufficient to make informed policy decisions with respect to expulsions. This is surprising given the profound impact an expulsion may have on a student.
    2. The department, at the request of the investigation, collated the full expulsion numbers for 2014, 2015 and 2016. The department’s practice has been to only keep numbers for expulsions that occurred before August each year, meaning it does not know year on year how many expulsions are occurring for the full school year.
    3. Further, despite it being a requirement of the Ministerial Order, only around one third of expulsions are recorded in CASES21. The data collection processes rely on a paper-based system where the only reliable record of an expulsion are forms, completed by the principal and sent to the regional office. There exists no other automated mechanism that allows for a centralised collection and qualitative analysis of expulsions.
    4. This meant that the department had no reliable or easily accessible electronic records of the expulsions that had occurred in its schools. It also meant that the department had to undertake a time and labour intensive process to obtain the evidence required by this investigation from the Regional Offices.
    5. From initial requests in late 2016, it took until May 2017 for the department to be able to provide a final number of expulsions that had occurred in Victorian government schools in 2016.
    6. Until the investigation undertook its analysis, there was no data available on expulsions for:
      • children in out of home care
      • children with a disability
      • children with a mental illness
      • children who have recently arrived in Australia.
    7. Apart from numbers on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students expelled, this data was not kept by the department and is only available because of the analysis undertaken by the investigation.
    8. Due to limitations in the data collected by the department this story is not complete.
    9. The lack of data makes it difficult if not impossible for the department to recognise patterns in which students groups are being expelled and subsequently develop policies to address any issues identified.
    10. In addition, the department does not collect data or track the outcomes for students who are expelled from government schools. This is surprising given the Education State initiative’s focus on keeping more students in school and eliminating the connection between outcomes and disadvantage. Our analysis revealed that 61 of the students expelled in 2016 were out of school for over three months and for 79 students there is insufficient data to determine how long they were out of school.
    11. The absence of data and the department’s limited oversight of school expulsions, has contributed to the department’s failure to identify and address the prevalence of expulsions among vulnerable groups and schools’ non-compliance with the Ministerial Order, which seeks to protect students from unfair expulsions.

    Formal expulsions (observations)

    1. The Ministerial Order outlines basic requirements that a principal must meet when expelling a student. These requirements are not onerous; nevertheless, the investigation’s review of the 2016 expulsions identified non-compliance with the Ministerial Order.
    2. The investigation identified expulsion reports that failed to demonstrate how options other than expulsion were considered.
    3. In addition, in at least 120 of the expulsion reports reviewed did not demonstrate that a student’s behaviour was of such a magnitude that expulsion was the only available response.
    4. It is reasonable and in line with community expectations that predictable, consistent and objective decisions are made across Victorian government schools. However, inconsistent decision making was evident across the 278 expulsions.
    5. This was most striking in the expulsions that were related to drugs: a student caught smoking marijuana one time was punished the same way as a student dealing drugs in the school. Decisions to expel in some of these cases were questionable considering the department’s drugs policy and public statements emphasising a student wellbeing approach to drug matters.
    6. Principals are able to exercise their discretion within the parameters set by the Ministerial Order and with the exercise of autonomous decision making comes a level of subjectivity and can lack accountability. The issue is not whether principals have the discretion to make these decisions, but whether a young person’s future at their school or future pathway should depend entirely on the view of one principal.
    7. The investigation also identified expulsions in which principals did not provide evidence to support the allegations against students. This is inconsistent with principles of good decision making.
    8. Under the Ministerial Order, it is not mandatory that principals conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations against a student before proceeding with expulsion. While, departmental guidance states that it is best practice to conduct investigations, there is no obligation to, and failure to do so does not create a right of appeal. This was a concern to the investigation.
    9. A young person at risk of expulsion ought to have an equal or greater expectation of protection than an adult facing potential termination of employment, not less. This is especially true when the expulsion numbers reflect an over-representation of young people from vulnerable groups.

    Vulnerable groups

    1. The investigation has found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students with a disability and students in out of home care were all over-represented in formal expulsion numbers in 2016.
    2. For instance students who receive PSD funding represent around four per cent of the student population, yet they represent over 16 per cent of expulsions.
    3. Despite the vulnerability of these groups there is a lack of protection in the current Ministerial Order and associated policies for expulsions. For instance, it is a requirement that the regional office be notified when a principal is considering an expulsion for a student in out of home care and international students.
    4. However, for others such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students or students with a disability, such safeguards are optional and the evidence of witnesses in the investigation suggests it is not effective.
    5. The instances of students with a disability being expelled is of particular concern. There is no requirement that the regional office be consulted and it can be argued that, as in some of the case studies in this report, the students were expelled for behaviour that is a result of their disability.
    6. This brings into question whether the department is providing sufficient support for students with a disability and whether the expulsion of a student with a disability is discriminatory and a breach of the department’s obligations under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.
    7. In its response to the Ombudsman’s draft report the department stated:

      "The issue raised is a very complex one (where the student’s behaviours are a manifestation of their disability but despite provision of all reasonable adjustments the student is still behaving in a manner that endangers others). However, Ministerial Order 625 does require principals to take into account a student’s disability (and other circumstances) when determining whether the expulsion is appropriate."

    Trauma

    1. Childhood trauma was regularly cited by witnesses and in submissions as a key area of concern regarding expulsions. Students suffering from trauma-related behavioural problems were identified as presenting a significant challenge for schools and one they were perhaps ill-equipped to handle.
    2. No departmental data was available on how many of the students had been expelled exhibited signs of trauma. An analysis conducted by a clinical psychologist for the investigation showed that indicators of trauma were highly prevalent in a random sample of expulsion reports.
    3. There is an obvious need for the department to continue to develop policies and support programs to assist students who have been exposed to trauma, and to equip schools and teachers with the skills and assistance to do so.

    After expulsion

    Future education, training or employment options

    1. Children between 6 and 17 years of age are of compulsory school age. In Victoria universal access to education is provided through the government school and training system. 148
    2. The importance of young people being in school is highlighted in the Ministerial Order, which requires that the principal, in collaboration with the regional office, ensure that the student is provided with other education or development opportunities as soon as practicable after expulsion, and that the plan is documented in the Expulsion Report.
    3. The investigation identified that, contrary to the Ministerial Order, principals often provide details of a plan for future education or training upon expelling a student and the department does not monitor compliance with this requirement.
    4. It was only after a request from the investigation that the department was able to provide information about where the majority of the 278 students ended up after expulsion. The investigation was concerned by the amount of time many students were disengaged after expulsion and that for some students their destination was unknown.
    5. Given what is known about the adverse outcomes for disengaged young people, including increased contact with the criminal justice system, it is critical that the education system comply with the Ministerial Order and places children in education or training as a matter of urgency if they are expelled.

    Appeals

    1. Evidence to the investigation from parents was that the appeals process is unclear, contradictory and does not provide adequate support for students and their families while they try to navigate the process.
    2. Parents told the investigation that they lacked confidence in the process, one describing it as a fait accompli. Parents also felt that RASPs were too closely aligned with the expelling principal to be an independent voice during the expulsion review. At interview, a Regional Director said that they could understand why parents felt this way.
    3. The majority of parents interviewed raised concerns about the lack of advocacy and support during the appeals process, especially when faced with the expertise and resources of the department. Some expressed concerns that it would be that nearly impossible for parents with less education or who spoke English as a second language to be able to navigate the appeals process.
    4. The guidance material for parents appealing an expulsion makes an unnecessary distinction between the use of ‘must’ and ‘should’ in the Ministerial Order as grounds for an appeal.
    5. The grounds under which an expulsion can be appealed are themselves already set out in the Ministerial Order and should not be qualified in departmental guidance material. This has the potential to confuse students and their families and discourage appeals.
    6. Thirty-eight per cent of appealed expulsions were overturned by the department in 2016. Of these, five out of the eight overturned expulsions were because the expelling school failed to follow the process outlined in the Ministerial Order. This indicates that too often schools are expelling students contrary to departmental expectations and the requirements of the Ministerial Order. Our analysis demonstrates that this issue is not confined to those expulsions that were appealed.

    Informal expulsions (conclusions)

    1. Informal expulsions are not permitted, yet they are clearly occurring. All departmental witnesses acknowledged that informal expulsions occur in government schools. The case studies in this report as well as submissions to the investigation provide further evidence.
    2. Despite this, it does not appear that the department is taking effective action to prevent or monitor instances of informal expulsions. Some case studies identified instances where regional officers were aware of a school’s intention to informally expel, but nothing was done to prevent it. Perhaps because the officers felt powerless to do something; or because they perceived the child would be better off in another school.
    3. There was no reliable way for the investigation to get data on informal expulsions as there is simply no data kept by the department. The number of informal expulsions is not known nor is any indicative number available.
    4. As was noted in the report, there were 278 students expelled in 2016 yet the department states that around 6,800 students per year disengage from government education between year 9 and 12. It can only be concluded that somewhere between these two figures is an indicative number for informal expulsions.
    5. The small data sets the investigation obtained from two alternative education providers, the Melbourne Academy and the Pavilion School, show that informal expulsions were approximately twice as prevalent as formal expulsions amongst its students.
    6. Based on these small data sets and the witness evidence and submissions provided to the investigation, it is reasonable to conclude that informal expulsions are more common than formal expulsions, perhaps much more common.
    7. As with formal expulsions there is evidence in the form of case studies and submissions that vulnerable groups may be more likely to be informally expelled but there is unfortunately no data available to confirm this. The department does not routinely keep records of why students move from one school to another.
    8. There is a clear case for more to be done regarding informal expulsions. The issue cannot be addressed adequately until the department is able to measure the scale of the issue and fill in the significant gaps in the data.

    Results of efforts to re-engage students and reduce expulsions

    1. The evidence highlights significant areas for improvement with respect to formal and informal expulsions. However, the investigation also received evidence of successful efforts to re-engage students and reduce expulsions:

      LOOKOUT Centres

      LOOKOUT Centres provide professional development and support to schools, carers and child protection practitioners to improve educational outcomes for students living in out of home care. As of Term 1 2017, LOOKOUT Centres are operating state-wide. A principal leads the Centres, which consist of a multidisciplinary team with skills in education, psychology, social work, and expertise in the particular educational and cultural needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people. Through LOOKOUT, nominated teachers in government and Catholic schools are trained to become Designated Teachers, who ‘act as advocates for kids in care, ensuring high expectations for their learning and development and ensuring the best interests of every child is given the highest priority’.

      The LOOKOUT Centre in South West Victoria Region was the first Centre to be established. By the end of 2016 it was already demonstrating an impact, reducing the number of expulsions of students in out of home care in the region from 9 in 2015 to zero in 2016.

      The Victorian Government reported that, as a result of the pilot, the ‘number of students in out of home care in the region who were not enrolled in school declined from 64 to 17 by December 2016 and expulsions reduced to zero’. The government reportedly aims ‘for every school in Victoria to have a trained Designated Teacher by the end of the year’. 149

      The Education Justice Initiative

      The EJI was established in 2014 ‘in response to the high level of school disengagement of young people appearing in the Criminal Division at the Melbourne Children’s Court of Victoria’. 150 EJI staff make contact with children coming through the court to establish if they are engaged in education and if they are not, offer assistance to re-engage them. An evaluation of the program found that the EJI had been successful in re-engaging a high proportion of its clients back into education. Of the group of 103 young people it worked with, 68 became ‘full clients’ of the EJI and, as of 30 June 2015, 75 per cent had been re-engaged with education. 151

      Project to improve students’ social and emotional skills

      As detailedin this report, in response to ‘high rates of students being exited from class for misbehaviour, and of students being suspended or expelled for incidents involving disruption, defiance and aggression’ the North West Victoria Region implemented a series of actions to improve students’ social and emotional skills. Since the project commenced, the Regional Director reported there has been an almost 50 per cent reduction in students being removed from class or suspended for misbehaviour; and a reduction in the number of students expelled from 12-18 in 2013-15 to four in 2016.

      Responses of individual schools

      Case studies one and two of this report also detailed parents’ satisfaction with the support provided to their children in their respective new schools after expulsions and a reported lack of support from other government schools.

    Opinion

    1. On the basis of the evidence obtained in the investigation, the Department of Education and Training appears to have acted in a manner that is wrong 152 by failing to effectively oversee expulsions at Victorian government schools during the 2016 school year - in particular, by failing to:
      • ensure that expulsions occurred in accordance with Ministerial Order 625
      • keep adequate data regarding expulsions in light of the impact on a child
      • monitor and ensure that students expelled are provided with further educational or development opportunities
      • monitor and prevent incidents of informal expulsion.

    Secretary’s response to the Ombudsman’s draft report

    Every Victorian child and young person has the right to receive a high-quality education, regardless of background or circumstance. Education plays a key role in the life trajectory of all children and it is essential that they are supported to stay in education in order to reach their potential.

    Your investigation’s preliminary conclusions highlight a number of concerns for the Department about the practice of expulsions and the impact this has on students. While it is reassuring that expulsions are a rare occurrence in the Victorian government school system, I welcome the opportunity to improve our education system and its support for all children and young people.

    Your report identified a number of concerns about vulnerable groups. It is particularly troubling that expulsions disproportionately affect some of our most vulnerable cohorts, particularly students with disabilities, those in out of home care and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. The cases of expulsion affecting children in the early years of primary school are equally troubling.

    It is vital that students from vulnerable backgrounds are able to benefit from the opportunities that education can provide and I share your concern that expulsions will have a detrimental impact on their educational outcomes. While the Department provides a range of supports, resources and programs for these cohorts, it is clear that there is a need for stronger oversight in this area to ensure we can better monitor practice and intervene early. Cases relating to primary school aged children, particularly the earlier years, also require a higher level of scrutiny.

    Your report acknowledges the complex and challenging task that principals and teachers face in balancing the duty of care to vulnerable students with behaviours of concern with the duty to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students and staff.

    As you have indicated, more effort is required to ensure that schools are well-equipped to support such students to engage in education and this includes assistance from the Department more broadly. The new expertise now available in the Department’s regions and areas, introduced through the Learning Places operating model reforms in 2015, presents a key opportunity to do this.

    Initiatives such as the LOOKOUT Education Support Centres, which you highlight in your report, show promise in addressing the education challenges of a vulnerable cohort - namely children and young people in out of home care. Established statewide from Term 1 this year, LOOKOUT has already had a very positive impact on rates of expulsions for this cohort of young people, by combining capacity building of school-based staff with regional oversight and monitoring to increase both the educational expectations and outcomes. We are exploring opportunities to build on the learning from this model.

    Your report also identified the need for better collection of data and improved record-keeping regarding expulsions. This will be an important area for further work, both at the Department and school level. Accurate and timely data is vital for informing earlier intervention and identifying and addressing impacts on particular cohorts, as well as providing assurance and support regarding the future education pathways of students subject to expulsion.

    Under the current Ministerial Order, the Department’s central oversight role in the expulsion process is minimal, up until the point of an expulsion appeal. The Department provides supports and additional information to schools and parents in the expulsion process, as provided in the Ministerial Order, such as language and advocacy support for parents, carers and students, and other resources to assist parents and carers in the expulsion process under the Student Engagement and Inclusion Guidance (the Guidance). There is an opportunity to improve the supports provided to families in the appeals process, and ensure there is greater clarity around the appeals process itself.

    You raise concerns about the Department’s role in monitoring and preventing incidents of informal expulsions. Any action by a principal or a school to exclude a student from education, outside of the formal processes, is contrary to the Ministerial Order and the Department’s policy and guidance. The Department shares your concerns regarding these instances of informal expulsions, and the impact they have on the wellbeing and future opportunities of the students involved.

    Recommendations

    To the Minister for Education

    Recommendation 1

    Amend Ministerial Order 625 to ensure that a principal cannot expel a student aged 8 years old or less from any government school without the approval of the Secretary or her delegate and consider any additional changes to the Order necessary to give effect to the recommendations that follow.

    Minister's response:

    I support your proposed recommendation for amendment to the current ministerial order. The Victorian Government is committed to transforming Victoria into the Education State. That means every Victorian child and young person is supported to remain engaged in education, so that they reach their potential, regardless of background or circumstance.

    A significant challenge for schools is also ensuring the safety and order of the school, in order to protect the learning environment for all students and staff and to allow for effective teaching. Every Victorian child and young person should have the opportunity to learn in a safe, positive and supportive classroom environment.

    As you are aware, I have asked the Department to review its suspension and expulsion policy to ensure that it aligns with the Education State targets to reduce the number of students who disengage from education. The Department’s review of suspension and expulsion policy will be informed by and address the findings and recommendations of the Ombudsman’s report.

    This includes consideration of further potential amendments to the Ministerial Order 625 governing suspensions and expulsions, to ensure all students, particularly vulnerable groups are supported to remain engaged in education.

    As part of its review, the Department will also consult with our stakeholders to ensure that we can draw from their expertise in the finalisation of our reform proposals.

    To the Department

    Recommendation 2

    Embed the principle and expectation in policy or guidance that no student of compulsory school age will be excluded from the government school system (even if expelled from an individual government school).

    Department's response: The department supports this recommendation.

    Recommendation 3:

    Introduce an assurance system to monitor compliance with the Ministerial Order for expulsions, to be undertaken at least once annually. Noting that the legislative obligation under section 2.1.1 of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 is on the parent to enrol a student of compulsory school age and ensure they attend a school (or are registered for home schooling), this should include consideration of the following:

    a.
    all students of compulsory school age who are expelled be supported to be enrolled in another government school, or are appropriately supported to engage in other educational options, within one month of expulsion; and

    b.
    all students who are expelled and not of compulsory school age, are provided with advice and support to engage in other educational, employment or training opportunities.

    Department's response: The department supports this recommendation.

    Recommendation 4

    To inform policies and programs aimed at preventing disengagement and expulsions, collect and report publicly, to the extent possible considering privacy laws, each year on the following data:

    a.
    the total number of expulsions each year

    b.
    the outcomes for students expelled each year (eg whether they were re-engaged in education, employment or training following expulsion)

    c.
    students with a disability or mental illness who receive supplementary funding

    d.
    Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students

    e.
    students in out of home care

    f.
    newly arrived migrants, refugees and asylum seekers

    g.
    primary school students.

    Department's response: The department supports this recommendation.

    Recommendation 5

    To enable more robust data collection, amend the Expulsion Report templates so that they reflect the requirements set out in the Ministerial Order, as well as reference to responsibilities under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.

    Department's response: The department supports this recommendation.

    Recommendation 6

    Amend department policy and guidelines to ensure that:

    a.
    principals ‘thoroughly investigate’ the incident or incidents that lead to an expulsion, and fully document this process to strengthen procedural fairness for students

    b.
    senior regional office staff be directly involved when expulsion is being considered for:

    i. students with a disability (including mental illness) who receive supplementary funding

    ii. Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students

    iii. students in Out of Home Care

    iv. newly arrived migrants, refugees and asylum seekers

    v. primary school students.

    c. specific staff in regional offices and, where appropriate, other agencies, are nominated to provide support services and advocacy to assist students and their families during the expulsion process, including if an expulsion is appealed.

    Department's response: The department supports this recommendation.

    Recommendation 7

    In light of the apparent success of the Education Justice Initiative, Navigator and LOOKOUT pilots, the department develop and pilot a model to support schools to develop challenging behaviour prevention and early intervention strategies for all students with high needs and complex behaviours (including students with disabilities) that have an impact on the safety and wellbeing of themselves and others. This should involve a multi- disciplinary approach with expertise, support and advice from appropriate allied health, clinical, safety, human rights and regional staff provided to the school to support the student, and a support service for principals to access when considering expulsion.

    Department's response: The department supports this recommendation.

    Recommendation 8

    In order to prevent informal expulsions:

    a.
    implement mandatory and timely reporting to the relevant regional office by the principal when a student leaves a school via means outside a formal expulsion where this is preceded by behaviour or discipline issues involving that student.

    b.
    require that the parents or guardians complete a form regarding the student exit including whether they agree to the exit and report on the next educational, employment or training opportunity for that student.

    Department's response: The department supports this recommendation.



    1. In 2016 eight expulsions were subsequently overturned on appeal meaning 270 students were expelled. The analysis in this report is based on the 278 instances of expulsion prior to any successful appeal. If an appeal is successful the expulsion is removed from the student’s record.
    2. The final report was released in June 2016 titled Out of sight, out of mind? Exclusion and inclusion of students in Victorian schools.
    3. Figures provided from the Department of Education and Training, 17 August 2016.
    4. Figures provided from the Department of Education and Training, 28 November 2016.
    5. Department of Education and Training, Procedures for Expulsion, page 1.
    6. Department of Education and Training, Procedures for Suspension, page 1.
    7. The six towns and cities were Geelong, Ballarat, Wodonga, Shepparton, Mildura and Moe.
    8. http://www.bastow.vic.edu.au/about-us/history-of-education-in-victoria accessed on 4 May 2017.
    9. Department of Education and Training, Greater Returns on Investment in Education: Government Schools Funding Review, December 2015, page 5.
    10. Department of Education and Training, Greater Returns on Investment in Education: Government Schools Funding Review, December 2015, page 4.
    11. http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/about/department/brochurejuly.pdf accessed on 24 January 2017.
    12. ibid.
    13. The Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority is the statutory authority responsible for ensuring education providers meet quality standards.
    14. The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority is an independent statutory body to provide curriculum, assessment and reporting for government and non-government schools.
    15. Interview with Regional Director, Department of Education and Training, 21 February 2017.
    16. Section 1.1.1(1) Education and Training Reform Act 2006.
    17. Section 2.1.1 Education and Training Reform Act 2006.
    18. Section 1.2.2(1) Education and Training Reform Act 2006.
    19. Section 2.1.1 Education and Training Reform Act 2006.
    20. http://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/educationstate/Pages/vision.aspx accessed on 12 April 2017.
    21. ibid.
    22. ibid.