Pupil violence: Tusla asks to meet school with most suspensions

Principal of Drogheda secondary school says vast majority are for violent behaviour

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said the purpose of Tusla’s meeting with the school would be to explore the use of the suspension process and offer guidance on alternative strategies. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said the purpose of Tusla’s meeting with the school would be to explore the use of the suspension process and offer guidance on alternative strategies. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Child and Family Agency, Tusla, is seeking a meeting with a secondary school in Co Louth which has the highest level of pupil suspensions in the State.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said the agency’s education welfare service has written to St Joseph’s Secondary School in Drogheda to convene a meeting with the local education welfare service team and the school’s pastoral care team “given the high levels of suspension and expulsion in the school”.

Ms Zappone said the purpose of the meeting would be to explore the use of the suspension process and offer guidance on alternative strategies.

Sinn Féin TD for Louth Imelda Munster said she had been contacted by several parents about the number of students being suspended and raised the level of “forced absence punishments” with the Minister.

The Christian Brothers’ school, which has 700 pupils, suspended 23 first-year pupils in the current school year. This is 16.4 per cent of its first-year population and almost three times the national average of suspensions for all age groups in 2015-2016. Two first years were expelled from the school in the current academic year.

A total of 75 students, one in nine of the school’s population, were suspended in the 2015-2016 academic year, 2.7 times the national average.

Grievance

“There is such a high level of suspensions and parents have a grievance that the behaviour involved would not normally merit a suspension,” Ms Munster said. She called for the department to investigate the rationale for the high level of suspensions.

Ms Zappone said no response had yet been received from the school to Tusla.

School principal David Madden said he had forwarded the correspondence to the board of management and it would be dealt with at its monthly meeting on Monday.

Mr Madden said the vast majority of suspensions related to violent behaviour and the board was informed each month of any suspensions. “We don’t just suspend, we deal with the individuals” and the issues, he said, adding that some students in the school presented with challenging behaviour.

An ambulance had to be called to the school three weeks ago after a student who was pushed ended up with a head injury and had to have their head stitched.

In a separate incident, a student who was pushed down an embankment banged his head off the ground and was out for a week “on concussion watch”.

Mr Madden stressed that the school’s code on suspensions was put together in consultation with teachers, parents and outside educational and legal expertise.