Principals win power to suspend

School principals will be able to suspend students without facing parents, but could front an appeal panel if they decide to expel students, Education Minister Martin Dixon has said.

As first revealed in Fairfax Media, Mr Dixon plans to reduce red tape for schools and give principals more flexibility and autonomy on suspending and expelling students.

Under a new minister order and guidelines that come into effect on March 1, students who are "consistently" unproductive or pose a danger to others can be suspended or expelled. He said the measures were a "last resort" for schools.

"The new ministerial order simplifies the process and gives school principals – who know their students best and who are accountable to their parents and the local community – the ability to make the decisions themselves," Mr Dixon said, in a statement.

Principals would no longer need to meet face-to-face with parents before their child is suspended for a short period of time. A phone call would suffice.

Frank Sal, the president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, said old guidelines on suspension and expulsion favoured the student at the expense of other students in the class and school.

"From our point of view it is a much more balanced to what we have had," Mr Sal said.

"We had a system that was too much in favour of the student in trouble and looking after their rights and not looking after the other students, looking out for the school or for the school's reputation," he said.

He said some parents had avoided meetings with principals to prevent their child from being suspended. He said school principals would still need to find an alternative school for an expelled student.

Parents Victoria executive director Gail McHardy said it was concerned that principals could move to expel a student straight away while that student was suspended.

"We do remain alarmed that under the new order a principal can movestraight to expulsion," Ms McHardy said.

She said Parents Victoria was pleased the appeals process wasreinstated, as it was initially under threat.

"Parents Victoria maintains that we all have a right to natural justice but with power to impact the future of a young person for life is even more reason to consider carefully how decision makers exercise that responsibility," she said.

Ms McHardy said school leaders now needed to prove the system wouldnot alienate struggling, marginalised and difficult students.

She called on the state government to commit to family programs and support officers in schools.

Mr Dixon said one of the key elements of the ministerial order was to establish a group of discipline and wellbeing experts who could support principals in disciplinary processes. These experts would also form independent review panels in the event an expulsion was appealed.

"Principals can call on the team of experts at any stage during an expulsion, drawing on their expertise to develop an approach that best meets a student's needs," Mr Dixon said.

He said feedback had suggested parents wanted an access to independent "oversight".

A meeting would be mandatory before an expulsion could go ahead, giving students and their supporting adult an opportunity to be heard, Mr Dixon said.

New grounds for expulsion and suspension include bringing weapons to school, behaving in a dangerous way, or behaving in a way that adversely affects other students' learning.

He said stakeholder groups, including Parents Victoria, had been consulted and their feedback was incorporated into the final guidance which was expected later this month.

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