School suspension and expulsion numbers have increased significantly across Ireland since the Covid-19 pandemic, according to new figures from Tusla. Knowing that students who experience suspension are more likely to disengage from the education system, become involved with the juvenile justice system and are more likely to experience homelessness, what are we doing to prevent the escalation of these issues?
The Irish Times recently reported an almost 70% increase in suspensions between 2020-2021 and 2021-2022. Áine Lynch of the National Parents Council and Dr. Hannah McGinley cited the urgent need for wrapraround services and targeted supports for young people to address escalating behavioural issues in schools.
At YMCA Dublin, we run an Alternative Suspension (AS) programme, which supports students who are at risk of disengagement from education, or have been suspended.As an alternative to the traditional exclusionary school suspension approach, AS is an internationally proven intervention, originally researched and developed by YMCA Canada, which offers targeted support and advocacy to help ensure better educational outcomes and positive changes to youth mental health & well-being.
Students are empowered to work through their difficulties in a constructive manner and last year, we saw a 43% reduction in negative behaviours amongst participants following just 3 months engagement with the programme. Following the first year of AS, we have experienced a 14% increase in referrals and have engaged with 6 additional schools, not all of whom we can accommodate.
Minister for Education, Norma Foley, recognised the need for a framework for students who are at-risk of becoming disengaged from education in last year’s report on the review of out-of-school education provision. Recommendations from the review outlined requirements for “a standardised referral framework to provide clear structure, guidelines and accountability”.
The AS programme offers a structured framework that has been proven effective and we believe that this is a service that can be rolled out nationwide to address this need. This programme can act as a preventative social intervention to disrupt the suspension cycle, which is one that disproportionately affects vulnerable and at-risk youths. However, state support and investment will be required to make this happen.
Supports, such as Alternative Suspension, need to become a national government priority to help support vulnerable students, prevent educational disadvantage and transform the future outcomes for young people and their wider communities.
If we fail to invest in our youth, who will?